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ATU, St. Mary’s Explore Benefits of DEUs

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The Arkansas Tech University Department of Nursing and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Russellville have developed an innovative way to enhance students' academic experience and patients' care.

St. Mary's has designated the medical surgical unit on its fourth floor as a dedicated education unit (DEU). As a result, hospital staff nurses have been trained on course objectives and expectations so they can serve as clinical teachers when interacting with student nurses.

Dr. Terri McKown, professor of nursing at ATU, began her study of the DEU model a decade ago when she was completing her doctorate. Now, through a partnership forged with Carole Gore, director of nursing at St. Mary's, and Marrlene Vanderboom, St. Mary's medical surgical unit director, Arkansas Tech and St. Mary's are bringing the instructional style to the Natural State for the first time.

"Nursing programs are continually looking for methods to enhance student learning and clinical experiences, while health care organizations are seeking opportunities to retain experienced nurses," said McKown. "The DEU teaching model has existed nearly 20 years and is currently utilized by other nursing programs in different states, but hasn’t been implemented in Arkansas to date.

"This program affects our whole community and people's perceptions of our program, the hospital and the community," continued McKown. "Students have told us they love real-time patient care and that the clinical teachers help them recall why we do things the way we do. The students have also provided positive feedback about the helpfulness of the clinical teachers, the benefits of the added presence of nursing faculty members and how patients become involved in learning and teaching."

Each clinical teacher from the St. Mary's nursing staff is paired with two ATU nursing students, and each nursing student in the program has two patients. The clinical teachers are granted a reduced patient load by St. Mary's so they can provide training while maintaining high-quality care.

The following objectives are shared by ATU and St. Mary's:

  • Utilize expert staff nurse experience(s) to increase nursing student knowledge
  • Improve satisfaction and retention of seasoned nurses
  • Recruitment of new nurses
  • Create an atmosphere of increased teamwork/collaboration with mutual respect and integrity
  • Patient-centeredness
  • Improve patient care involvement and satisfaction
  • Provide optimal outcomes through excellent patient care

McKown explained that another important aspect of the program is the fact that the ATU students have the same clinical trainer throughout the semester.

"This allows true partnership development in caring for the patient," said McKown. "It creates trust in the student’s abilities and skills while fostering real time nursing."

ATU and St. Mary's launched a pilot DEU program in fall 2018. The program is continuing in spring 2019 with plans to expand into additional area hospitals by fall 2019.

Visit to learn more about the ATU Department of Nursing.