Dr. Sharon K. Powell-Laney, an EdD graduate, received Walden University’s 2011 Outstanding Doctoral Study Award (now the Frank Dilley Award for Outstanding Doctoral Study) for her research, Use of Human Patient Simulators to Enhance the Clinical Decision Making of Nursing Students, which reveals that simulation training better prepares nurses to respond to real-life emergencies.

Addressing the Need for Research

Powell-Laney, a faculty member of Liberty University Online, has worked with human patient simulator (HPS) technology since 2005 but was frustrated by the lack of research about its efficacy in developing nursing students’ critical-thinking skills. “I felt there was a gap in the literature on this subject,” she explains, which is why she pursued it in her doctoral research at Walden.

“The clinical practicum is the most important part of a nurse’s education,” Powell-Laney stresses. “And many hospitals are downsizing due to economic strains, which makes it harder for nurses to find good clinical experiences.” Simulation, Powell-Laney believes, can fill the gap between classroom and patient care.

Her research focused on simulations of patients experiencing a myocardial infarction or heart attack. By “practicing” on the simulation manikin, nursing students can increase not only their knowledge of appropriate care but also their speed in making decisions and providing basic life support like CPR, according to Powell-Laney’s study. “My research found that students educated in care of the patient through simulation were able to perform CPR 30 seconds faster than students taught through a traditional paper-and-pen case study.”

Powell-Laney uses an abundance of scenarios that focus on a patient arriving at a hospital’s emergency room with an unknown ailment to test students. Practice includes assessing the patient physically and through interviews. “Simulation will never take the place of actual patient encounters, but it can help bridge the gap caused by the current healthcare environment,” she says.

Continuing Life-Saving Research

Powell-Laney is dedicated to this line of research. “There are so many avenues to study in simulation,” she says. She is especially interested in learning how much clinical time can be devoted to simulation versus a traditional clinical environment. “I hope to change the way nursing instructors structure clinical experience for their students. I believe that simulation increases clinical decision-making skills in nursing students and can ultimately contribute to decreased patient morbidity and mortality.”

Powell-Laney’s dissertation committee consisted of Dr. Cheryl Keen (chair), who received the Outstanding Doctoral Study Committee Chair Award (now the Rita Turner Award), and Dr. Kelly Hall. “I felt very connected to my committee members even though we were sometimes thousands of miles away from each other,” Powell-Laney adds.

About the Award

This award is bestowed annually upon a Walden graduate whose dissertation is judged as meeting the highest standards of academic excellence. It honors Dr. Frank Dilley’s singular academic contributions to higher education and specifically his dedication to Walden academic programs. An active contributor to the university programs, in particular residencies, Dr. Dilley personifies Walden’s innovative spirit.

Read more about the Frank Dilley Award and past recipients.

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