Students get hands-on birthing experience at NVU-Lyndon simulation lab

Thousands of babies are born every day but nursing students in our region don’t always witness a live birth while in school.
Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 5:27 AM EDT
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LYNDON, Vt. (WCAX) - Thousands of babies are born every day but nursing students often don’t get to witness a birth in school. A new simulation lab is giving hands-on experience at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.

At a time when a nursing shortage persists across the country, Vermont State University officials say they’re hopeful the upcoming school merger will increase enrollment, subsequently helping health care providers in the Northeast Kingdom.

NVU-Lyndon nursing students Hannah and Casey are getting trained in the university’s new simulation lab. Before this lab, students would train at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. But every day is different, so emergency scenarios or changing situations don’t necessarily happen every time students are there.

“We don’t really get to do much up on the floor this year, it’s going to really kind of set in stone that that’s the track I want to change if it’s something different,” Hannah said.

The purpose of the sim lab is to give students experience to be prepared for any and all situations.

“We may not necessarily go to a floor and someone’s given birth at that moment. So we can talk about it. We can do it. We can go in here. We can have complications. We’re not going to go to a hospital. And hope to find something that is not what it needs to be about. But we can prepare for it,” said VSU instructor Michelle Stearns.

The lab has been in the works for four years. It cost around $500,000 and was paid for by a combination of federal, state, and anonymous contributions.

“We want to be able to recruit and retain nurses that work here, learn here, live here and stay here. So, having this space here and the ability to grow at this site really enables us to support the local nursing workforce in the Northeast Kingdom area,” said Sara Billings-Berg, the dean of nursing at Vermont State College.

She says the soon-to-be Vermont State University will have 400 to 450 nursing students. Around 38 are at Lyndon. The goal is to expand the numbers and use the simulation space as a selling point.

“Over the next five years, we could potentially be graduating you know, 2,000 or more students who will hopefully stay in Vermont. Vermont State University nurses tend to learn here and stay here, about 70% to 75% of our graduates actually stay in the state,” Billings-Berg said.

Keeping nurses in the state is something Northern Vermont Regional Hospital is trying to do. Hospital CEO Shawn Tester said 20 of their nursing staff are travel nurses, a huge number compared to the pre-pandemic one or two on occasion.

“That’s episodic care, their short-term contracts, really, we need to transition that back into the full-time workforce that it was pre-pandemic,” he said.

Tester adds a recent analysis shows 20% of his staff had a degree of one form or another from a Vermont-based school.

“It took the pandemic and COVID to really act as a catalyst to see real change in trying to expand our nursing programs, try to ensure that there’s local access to those programs and to get things off the ground,” Tester said.

Students will use the lab a few times a week. Vermont State University officially launches in July.

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