A $200,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will help UT Tyler Longview University Center nursing students better understand labor and delivery with simulation technology.

In Longview, the grant will allow the center to purchase a new labor and delivery mannequin, Associate Professor Colleen Marzilli said it will teach the students about the entire process, from caring for the pregnant mother to the actual delivery.

Once COVID-19 hit, students could not do their clinicals at hospitals, Marzilli said. The simulations allow them to get just as much practice, but the labor and delivery one needs to be replaced.

Now, when nurses are needed more than ever through the COVID-19 pandemic, Marzilli said the grant will help the school improve education for future health care workers.

Lacie Stillie graduated from the nursing school this semester, and she said the simulations are extremely helpful and should benefit future students.

She was not able to get the proper simulation for her mother-and-baby class, she said, and she emphasized it is important for students to be able to practice before going into the field.

“When you don’t have the learning experience and you’re out there — you’re not as comfortable, and you’re not able to do a skill,” Stillie said. “It does make a huge difference already having that hands-on experience in the school setting, so when you actually get out there, you’re already comfortable.”

Having the simulations also helps the students because they can practice communicating with patients, she said. The simulation technology allows teachers to speak through the mannequins, so students can practice the best ways to converse with patients while treating them.

“You don’t want to make a mistake, but it’s better to make a mistake in your school setting than the actual clinical experience,” Stillie said. “I really think the students will become more comfortable and they’ll have more confidence in themselves.”

UT Tyler is one of only a few schools that received the full $200,000 grant amount from the Nursing Innovation Grant Program. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website, the program is “an initiative to help address the state’s nursing shortage.” It was funded by the 76th Texas Legislature in 1999 with proceeds from the Texas Tobacco Lawsuit Settlement.

UT Tyler’s grant is among the 2020-2022 awards that are focused on supporting clinical learning experiences to help with challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marzilli said the grant also will fund a simulation operator and training for staff.

“It’s going to empower our students, and it really just emphasizes what we know in the school of nursing — that we are really just doing a great job for our students and it really helps reinforce that,” she said. “This grant is entrusting us with that money to help continue educating us and our students.”

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