By Michelle Consorte
Officially, DEU stands for dedicated education unit, but according to the students who work this 12-hour nursing shift every Wednesday, the E could just as easily stand for experience.
“We’re doing the same things that the newly hired nurse at the hospital is doing,” said junior Shaniek Winborne, one of the eight nursing students completing her second semester in the DEU at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.
Unlike the traditional clinical experience in which eight students all report to one preceptor (nurse mentor) and where each cares for just one patient, the DEU model is much more individualized, matching a maximum of two students to a single preceptor, who works with and tracks the students over three semesters.
“They know what’s expected of them as a real nurse,” added Samantha Palumba, R.N., a preceptor at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York. “If I had that, I would have been so much better-prepared starting out.”
Additionally, the DEU model strives for consistency and allows students to better acclimate by placing them with the same nurse mentor for all three semesters that they’re at the hospital. Students also have the choice of completing their senior capstone there
“You really get to know your preceptor; you establish a friendship with that nurse,” said Samantha Avila, another junior at North Shore Hospital, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. “Everyone [in the hospital] gets to know our faces. My nurse is always like, ‘Go huddle in with that group.’ It’s really great that we get those experiences. You get to see what you’ll actually be doing [as a nurse].”
Through this extensive hands-on training, “There’s a huge improvement in how students learn,” said Deborah Murphy ’85, clinical assistant professor and coordinator of clinical and community affairs at Adelphi’s College of Nursing and Public Health. “You’ve created a healthy working environment and encompassed students in how the facility runs, how to communicate with doctors. After the first day, they’re comfortable and they really soar.”
“The amount of support the students are getting is astronomical,” Assistant Clinical Professor Nancy Cole, M.S., R.N., added.
Not only do students learn side-by-side with nurse mentors in a real hospital setting, but they also get to work closely with doctors. “We became one big family. There’s always someone willing to answer our questions, even doctors,” said Nicoletta DiDonato, a junior now in the St. Francis DEU. “We can follow doctors when they go on their rounds and establish a rapport,” according to Allyn Weissleder, a junior in the DEU at North Shore.
On the flip side, participating hospitals also benefit and take a vested interest in these students.
“The students are very impressive,” said Lorraine Petrovich, CNRN, a preceptor at the North Shore DEU. “It’s a great experience for them and a big help for the hospital. I think [the program] is wonderful.”
The hospital, in addition to receiving extra hands on deck, can—if it does decide to hire any of the students after their graduation—drastically reduce their orientation period. “When they graduate they’ll be all ready to go—and won’t need to spend as much time in training. They already know the computer system which, honestly, is the hardest part,” Ms. Petrovich said, laughing.
One former student from the first DEU cohort at St. Francis stands as living proof of the program’s success: shortly after graduating from Adelphi, the student was hired as a staff nurse at St. Francis and is now on track to become a nurse manager.
“With healthcare in our society today we need people [like these students] who are very well prepared, who bring a personal touch,” said Sr. Katherine A. Murphy, RN-BC, CCRN, CHPN, NP-C, clinical nurse specialist at St. Francis.
“I would definitely recommend it to any student. I’ve told students who are behind me [in the nursing program]: definitely apply to the DEU program,” said Ingrid Pyram, another junior. “At the end of the shift, my feet hurt but [when I’m not there or I’m in traditional clinicals] I miss the hectic running around…It’s stressful but definitely worth it,” Samantha added.
Adelphi’s College of Nursing and Public Health, which first developed a DEU with St. Francis in 2009, next plans to establish more DEUs at North Shore. It has also developed another unit in partnership with Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York, and yet another collaboration is now underway with John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York.