390R: Not Just Another Class

This semester, the BYU College of Nursing is offering three term-long 390R elective courses designed to round out the curriculum of nursing students. Each one serves a special purpose in helping the College meet BYU’s goal of “[assisting] individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.”

Many students in the program wonder if they will ever have time to even think about taking elective courses. However, a brief description below of each class shows just how invaluable these courses can be in the rounded development of nursing abilities as well as their own personal self-maintenance.

Trauma: More than Pain

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Most people associate the word trauma with pain, hospitals, and horrific injuries. While trauma itself is far from pleasant, teaching about trauma care is a passion of assistant teaching professor Dr. Blaine Winters. An experienced trauma nurse, Winters has spent a career figuring out ways to improve the recovery of trauma patients.

That is why this semester he is directing a one-credit course on holistic care for trauma victims.“Basically a lot of the course just teach what you do in the emergency room, and this course is going to try to teach what happens across the whole continuum of care,” he says.IMG_5234

Unlike a traditional class, Winters’ course focuses on using case studies to help students put themselves in trauma patients’ shoes during their long and frequently tedious journey to recovery. The students track the progress of four imaginary patients that suffered various traumatic incidents (gunshot wound, explosion, fall, etc.), starting from receiving the injury all the way through rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

“We won’t cover everything you could, but it’s trying to get a look at a bigger picture than just what’s going to happen in the emergency room,” Winters says.

One of the main points that Winters wants to emphasize is the long-term nature of trauma injuries, particularly head and spinal injuries.

“I want them to see what happens other than in just one setting, to understand that these people are really hurt,” he says. “Lives are affected for a long time, so here are different ways that they may be affected and different complications that they may deal with later that we don’t normally talk about.”

The class meets Mondays from three to five in the afternoon and currently hosts 17 students.

Stop Stressing

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How do you convince nursing students to take an extra class about stress in nursing without putting extra stress on those students? Such was the dilemma faced by assistant teaching professors Stacie Hunsaker and Michael Thomas in their quest to help students be more resilient.

One year ago, Hunsaker and Thomas teamed up with assistant professor Dr. Janelle Macintosh and associate teaching professor Dr. Leslie Miles to create courses designed to reduce stress for nursing students. They planned two classes. The first, headed by Miles and Macintosh, teaches students to relax through simple methods like finger-painting, meditation, and hand massages (see our series on the class at https://byunursing.wordpress.com/category/nursing-relaxation/). The other, manned by Hunsaker and Thomas, focuses on wellness strategies.

“We teach the students how to care for themselves and also how to build resiliency,” Hunsaker explains.  “Each week we have different concepts that we’re teaching.”

The term class focuses on techniques such as getting sufficient sleep, maintaining a gratitude journal, and exercising.

“It’s been fun to teach because we are continually learning and reading new research about self-care and resiliency,” Hunsaker says.

Not only are the teachers applying research—they are conducting it as well. Hunsaker and Thomas are measuring how well the techniques taught in the class help the students become more resilient. Each class provides another sample of individuals. In fact, Thomas and a research assistant recently applied for an ORCA grant to continue studying the positive impacts of the class.

In the meantime, the class continues to meet Mondays at five. Currently 14 people attend.

“We’re hoping to increase that and get the word out to students that this is meaningful,” Hunsaker says. “You have the potential to make your life significantly better, just by your outlook and self-care.”

Getting Into the Mind of the Test Makers

A quick search of Internet memes about the NCLEX-RN reveals that many students regard the formidable exam with a combination of anxiety and apprehension. This is understandable, since passing the NCLEX is absolutely necessary to become a registered nurse.

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That is why associate teaching professor Karen de la Cruz offers a special 390R course centered on helping students perform better on not on the NCLEX, but also their normal exams in the nursing program.

She has a pretty good track record.

“So far I’ve never had a student that has worked with me that has failed the NCLEX exam,” she says. “Not one. I don’t think that’s going to last forever, but I just think there’s a lot of value in this for the students.”

When she first came to BYU, de la Cruz found herself tutoring students either individually or in small groups on top of her faculty duties. As the number of students swelled over time, her colleagues began to joke that she needed to install stadium seating in her office.

Finally, her informal training sessions became a .5 credit class that last semester had four different section groups. The class has a unique feel since its primary purpose is to get students ready for the NCLEX.

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“In a lot of ways it’s an easy class because there’s no homework or anything like that,” she explains.  “They just have to show up and what I do is drill them on the technique. We do question after question after question using the process of analyzing it to find the right answer.”

De la Cruz works hard to get students into the mindset of the test makers. The test makers, she explains, are frequently older, highly educated white nurses with 1.8 children who live on the East Coast. This plays into the questions because students have to remember that measurements such as oxidation are based on sea-level values rather than Rocky Mountain standards.

She also helps students understand that not every “correct” answer will sound right. Sometimes all of the answers are essentially wrong, but one is better than the rest.

What makes the class even more interesting is that de la Cruz uses practice questions related to the material that the students are currently studying. Many students have taken the class more than once in an effort to not only prepare for the NCLEX, but also better understand their other class material.

“Really it helps focus their thinking and it gives them some practice questions to prepare for the exams in their classes and for the NCLEX,” she says.

Moreover, de la Cruz heavily emphasizes the importance of identifying and  strengthening “the one” in her technique. For her, the class is not about just helping high-performing students get higher A’s—it’s about helping struggling students ensure that they can have a nursing career.

While she does not guarantee results, de la Cruz has seen students improve by margins of 20% on their class exams after being in her course. She ascribes this both to what she teaches and the mindset changes that students initiate after being in the course.

“I don’t think that’s all technique; I think it’s their attitude about their ability to succeed has totally changed as well as them gaining some new techniques,” she says.

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