Symanski: Focus on individual attention, communication skills and service, the strength of Alvernia nursing
While strong scientific knowledge and technical skills are important, safe patient care also depends on communicating well with other healthcare professionals, patients and families, says Dr. Mary Ellen Symanski, PhD, RN, associate professor of Nursing and department chair of Nursing.
Fortunately, nursing students at Alvernia have the advantage of learning the full range of skills needed to start or advance their nursing careers. Symanski, who has been teaching at Alvernia for more than nine years, says nursing coursework is interwoven with the university’s mission that includes values of service, collegiality and compassion.
“Because Alvernia is a smaller university, students receive individualized attention that meets a variety of learning styles,” she states. “There is also an emphasis on service.”
The focus on innovative learning experiences can be witnessed in Alvernia nursing classrooms and labs in many ways. One way is through volunteer-based simulations in which retired medical professionals take on roles as standardized patients. The simulations are hands-on learning experiences that allow students to practice patient care techniques and hone their listening and interpersonal skills. Following the interactions, the volunteers provide feedback to students on how well they did.
Students also learn through many community based service activities in schools and in elderly housing communities.
Students have many opportunities to build their competence before entering similar scenarios in a real workplace. “We do not want our students in front of a computer only; we want them to have real-life experiences,” Symanski says.
Additionally, nursing students are exposed to another aspect of the health-care profession: Collaborative health care. Part of their studies includes inter-professional education in which they interact with students from other health degree programs, including Occupational Therapy and Social Work.
Diverse experiences are a characteristic of Alvernia’s nursing education. Nurses must be prepared to work with people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. At Alvernia, students find classroom experiences to reflect some of the diversity they will encounter professionally.
“Our diversity is an advantage,” Symanski says. “Students reflect diversity. They interact with other students of different backgrounds, nationalities and age groups.”
The strength of Alvernia’s nursing program is due in large part from the dedication of the nursing faculty. Symanski says her main goals as a nursing educator are to prepare students for the real world of nursing and to set them on the path to continue to learn and grow throughout their careers.