a nurse watches monitors while attending to an educational patient manikinThe opening of a new state-of-the-art immersive nursing simulation center this fall will further strengthen the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s nursing program, allowing for an expansion in enrollment and ensuring graduates are even better prepared to meet the post-pandemic workforce and healthcare needs of the County and beyond.

The immersive simulation center will be the first of its kind in New England and provide UMFK nursing students with hands-on clinical training to develop the skills necessary to facilitate positive patient outcomes without risk.

Funding for the new center comes from $35 million awarded to the University of Maine System for workforce development through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan (MJRP)—the proposal put forth by Governor Mills and supported by the Maine Legislature to invest the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan relief funds.

“As many well know, there are significant barriers in finding qualified employees to fill vacancies in healthcare,” said Forest Hill Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center Administrator Travis Guy, a UMFK nursing graduate. “This immersive simulation center will have a significant impact in credentialing and training individuals in providing safe patient care. This will have an enormous benefit on staffing levels for our facilities as well as providing us with a regional center that will allow current and future employees to maintain the credentials and skills necessary to address healthcare needs well into the future. We look forward to our continued partnership with the University of Maine at Fort Kent.”

In response to a projected shortage of 1,450 registered nurses by 2025, the University of Maine System has stepped up investments in nursing faculty and facilities to support expanded enrollment and the number of nursing graduates ready to enter the healthcare workforce. In addition to the MJRP-funded immersive simulation center at UMFK, Congressionally Directed Spending secured by Senators Collins and King in both FY22 and FY23 will strengthen and grow nursing simulation experiences for students in Fort Kent and across the System.

“We are so pleased to be able to purchase immersion suite simulation equipment. These immersion suites provide a safe learning environment for nursing students while simultaneously creating real-world patient scenarios for students to gain valuable experience,” said UMFK Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Erin C. Soucy, Ph.D., RN.

The new Immersive Interactive software consists of 360-degree projections on classroom walls and floors to allow an entire class to be involved in virtual reality educational experiences. The state-of-the-art technology can essentially place a student anywhere in the world with the additional benefit of smells, sounds, and tactile stimuli to enhance the environments and provide realistic simulations. Although the software comes with a content library, it is also 100% customizable.

“This new technology will enhance our program by adding depth to scenarios in order to prepare students for safe and effective patient care,” said UMFK Assistant Professor of Nursing Duane Belanger, “Scenarios will no longer be limited to clinical settings in northern Maine. Educators will now be able to capture video from anywhere in the world and immerse students into multi-disciplinary scenarios. This is particularly beneficial in healthcare where environmental factors can have negative effects on patient outcomes.”

UMFK will also purchase high-realism LifeCast manikins tailored to meet the diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities at the university. The manikins are transforming how medical simulation is delivered and absorbed by closely resembling real people. They not only look real but also move in ways that are beneficial to nursing education. Fingers and wrists bend and cause vein dilation; limbs rotate and are able to be placed across the body; aging body replications include details of hollowing areas due to missing teeth or sagging skin as well as bunions and calluses; and facial and body hair are also included which help students experience how different body types are affected by emergency interventions such as intubation, mechanical ventilation, chest tubes, and patient transfers.

In addition, the new center will also include the Gaumard Hal simulator manikin that responds to questions and interactions by students. This manikin also blinks, speaks, and moves in ways to clearly depict the medical condition being taught.

The center will allow students to have more meaningful experiences with the added pressure of realism to better prepare them for their work ahead.

“The new simulation center will allow students to train and prepare to enter the workforce as effective members of the healthcare team on day one,” said Belanger.

Looking at the bigger picture of how the addition of the new center will impact UMFK’s nursing programs, Soucy added, “We will be able to assess student competency from a distance, which will be invaluable for our online graduate students.”

The renovations are slated to be completed for the start of the fall 2023 semester.

For more information on UMFK’s nursing programs, visit umfk.edu/academics/programs/nursing.