How technology aids Oregon in addressing nursing shortage

The Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education (OCNE) is a partnership between the Oregon Science & Health University School of Nursing and community colleges across the state that provides a single nursing curriculum statewide, and with more than 16 campuses involved in the consortium, technology is key to advancing education across the state.

Paula Gubrud-Howe, co-director of OCNE, tells FierceHealthIT that the program uses different tools to teach the nurses, including videoconferencing, webinars and a learning management system. In addition, she says, a lot of activites are done through voice-over PowerPoint and synchronous and asynchronous discussions done virtually. 

Gubrud-Howe (pictured) also spoke with FierceHealthIT about how the organization makes currculumn fit remote platforms and challenges to virtual education. 

FierceHealthIT: Tell us a little bit about your program.

Gubrud-Howe: OCNE is a collaboration of the one publicly funded university in Oregon that provides baccalaureate and doctorate degrees in nursing. About 10 years ago when it became apparent that we were going to have a pretty significant nursing shortage, we began collaborating with community colleges to create one curriculum that we all share, so students can finish their associate degree in nursing, then seamlessly transfer to the university to complete their baccalaureate. That's important to a state like Oregon because we're very rural and much of our population doesn't have access to universities. We need those nurses to stay in their own communities. So they can finish their baccalaureate and beyond in their own communities through this collaborative.

FHIT: What is technology's role in this?

Gubrud-Howe: In effect we have a 96,000-square-mile campus because we have 16 different campuses involved in this consortium. When you look at the nursing shortage, one of the biggest aspects is the faculty shortage. The consortium allows us to teach across the state using technology. We think about 50 percent of our nursing faculty are going to retire in the next three to five years, so collaboration technology supports our ability to deliver the curriculum and onboard new faculty at a critical time.

FHIT: Does the curriculum have to be presented differently when it's done remotely?

Gubrud-Howe: Yes, we have a document we've created around "netiquette." It's an issue. Sometimes we do a hybrid where we have some students live the classroom and we bring other people in synchronously where we have this screen of people like on "Hollywood Squares" and they participate. We have a lot of different mechanisms depending on what we're trying to teach and whether it's best learned in an individual or more collaborative way. More and more of our work is collaborative, because that's a big issue in healthcare. Healthcare workers don't work in a vacuum, they work as part of a team.

FHIT: Does it involve simulations or computerized modeling?

Gubrud-Howe: We're really proud of the fact that we were able to incorporate high-fidelity simulations into all of our nursing programs in the early 2000s. So every campus has a simulation lab. They're very high-tech mannequins that breathe and talk. You can change their physiological functions depending on how students respond to a particular set of symptoms.

We're really excited about leveraging our collaboration platform to train our faculty to use the simulations as we need to replace [faculty]. With each simulation you have a storyboard, so it's helping us collaborate to create the storyboards and create artifacts to evaluate student performance.

FHIT:  Is there any scenario in which technology could be hurting nursing education?

Gubrud-Howe: For some faculty, I think, it's the nail in the coffin. [For them,] it's one more tech thing, "I'm not a digital native. I'm done with this. I'm outta here." But at the same time, I think the ability to attract Millennials into nursing education far outweighs that. But this is happening. It's what our students expect. It's not the students who are challenged with adapting to the technology, it's the faculty. But as this generation retires and a new generation takes over, they're going to adopt this technology very easily.

There are concerns with electronic health records, and you see this in the nursing literature, about the amount of time nurses at the bedside spend managing electronic health records instead of interacting with patients. A lot of that has to do with the platforms. A lot of electronic health records were created without nursing input, so there's some frustration there.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.