JACKSONVILLE — The benefits of training nearly every day to be a nurse in a place where nurses once worked are not lost on Breanna Lucas.
Since the start of the fall semester last month, Lucas and her fellow Jacksonville State University nursing students have practiced their craft in the city’s former hospital, which became a part of the campus earlier this summer.
“I think we’re able to see a lot more of what a hospital setup will be like,” Lucas said as she stood outside a training room in the hospital on Thursday. “Being able to come here and see all the hookups on the wall, that’s a big bonus for everybody.”
The JSU nursing department opened the former hospital to the community for the first time on Thursday afternoon. While there, visitors were given tours of the new training rooms that take advantage of the hospital’s real-world facilities and extra space.
“I think this is great to have a hospital now,” said Shanteia Beavers, a second-year JSU nursing student. “It’s good to see things in textbooks, but it’s better to see it all in practice.”
Anniston-based Regional Medical Center donated the hospital to JSU after closing its Jacksonville branch on June 30 because of insufficient revenue. The building donation came at an opportune time, given that a tornado on March 19 significantly damaged Wallace Hall, the nursing department’s main building. Wallace Hall is currently being renovated and isn’t expected to reopen until next year.
“Without this, we would have had our nursing skills lab no telling where,” said Christie Shelton, dean of JSU’s School of Health Professions and Wellness.
Shelton said the larger space lends itself to the nursing department’s recent attempts to expand the program and teach more students each year. This semester the department started with 120 students, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.
“Now with this space we can expand with more opportunities to get students through here in a more efficient manner,” Shelton said.
The largest room in the hospital used by the nursing department is a former patient recovery room that’s been converted into a skills lab. Inside are about 10 practice mannequins in beds lined up on opposite ends of the room.
“It’s for more basic skills like checking vital signs, patient mobility and doing bed-making ... students practice on them,” Betsy Gulledge, JSU department head for nursing, said of the skills lab.
Across the hall and adjacent to the skills lab is a smaller room filled with small tables holding artificial arms on which students practice inserting IVs into veins.
Melissa Duckett, a JSU nursing instructor, said the IV and skills lab rooms provide almost twice as much space as what the department had for the same training at Wallace Hall.
“We’re able to do our entire instruction on IV insertion, then leave it still set up for other practices, then do checkups in rooms with beds,” Duckett said. “And now students are able to hear instructors better ... before they were in a more confined space.”
Next to the IV room is an operating room that the department has kept intact so students can get a better idea of working in such an environment. Previously, nursing students could only train in an operating room when they rotated through real hospitals later in their college careers.
“We did not have anything like this before at Wallace,” Duckett said of the operating room.
Shelton added that having the operating room’s actual dressing room next door was another advantage.
“They learn how to dress and remain sterile before entering the OR,” Shelton said. “That’s another option we didn’t have before.”
Besides the training rooms, JSU converted some of the former patient rooms into dorms for students. Gulledge said the department’s goal is to eventually make the hospital into a living and learning community.
“Students will be living in an area in close proximity to where their classes and labs are and will be fully engaged 24/7,” Gulledge said. “Hopefully the more engaged students are, the more successful they will be.”