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Boot camp boosts critical care skills

Sep. 20, 2018, 9:45 AM

During simulation-based training at the Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment (CELA), participants in the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant Critical Care Boot Camp receive guidance on specialized procedures. (Photo by Susan Urmy)

by Jill Clendening

More than 300 nurse practitioners and physician assistants from 40 states visited the Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus last week to attend the seventh annual Acute Care Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant Critical Care Boot Camp.

The popular event provides specialized critical care training where attendees can learn, network and advance their skills and clinical practice to improve patient care. The event was held in the Vanderbilt University Student Life Center and the Center for Experiential Learning (CELA) in Light Hall.

The faculty leading the sessions included critical care nurse practitioners (ACNPs), physician assistants (PAs), pharmacists and physicians representing all of the intensive care units at VUMC, as well as expert lecturers from other organizations and health systems.

“Our first conference was held in 2012 in the Round Wing of Medical Center North, with only 50 attendees,” said April Kapu, DNP, RN, associate nursing officer for VUMC Advanced Practice and director of the Office of Advanced Practice. “Workshop sessions were already sold out by April, and we were completely sold out by June. We don’t have any major advertising, just word of mouth.”

Kapu serves as the boot camp’s program director, and co-organizers are Janna Landsperger, ACNP, Medical Intensive Care nurse practitioner, and Billy Cameron, MSN, ACNP, Surgical Intensive Care nurse practitioner.

“The reason that we started boot camp is because we felt that advanced practice providers got lost at large critical care society meetings where there were thousands of people, but if they attended smaller nurse practitioner conferences, there was often not enough education related specifically to critical care,” said Landsperger. “We developed this conference to fill that educational void. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year as we provide these hardworking clinicians with excellent education to advance their skills in caring for ICU patients.”

The boot camp’s four days packed with training sessions and hands-on activities began with an Adult Critical Care Ultrasound Workshop, a focus session first added in 2017. During the workshop, led by Brooke Bailey, ACNP, attendees learned how to most effectively use bedside ultrasound to assist in areas such as fluid management and heart function assessment.

An additional pre-conference event was the third annual Advanced Practice Leadership Summit, which allowed team leaders, directors and chief nursing officers to come together for evidence-based leadership development and practical topics such as developing advanced practice-specific productivity models, quality measures, staffing and clinical advancement models.

The main event, the boot camp for comprehensive critical care, included lectures and panel discussions, with breakout sessions and pediatric-specific content. A highlight for many of those attending was the hands-on learning at the CELA lab, led by Jeff Barton, PA. Participants practiced critical care skills with computerized, lifelike mannequins during clinical scenarios such as central line insertion, ultrasound, airway management and emergency response.

First-time boot camp attendee Michele Devita, FNP, DNP from FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, North Carolina, cares for patients in all of the intensive care units at Moore Regional Hospital. She was eager to take back the knowledge she’d gained to fellow critical care providers.

“I really loved the lectures because they were all pertinent to what I do in the ICU,” Devita said. “They’ve gone over everything related to ECMO [Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation] here. While we don’t do ECMO at our facility, we transfer our patients to other transplant centers and centers in the region that do.

“Having this knowledge will help us better prepare patients for that transfer, help us better explain the options available to patients and help us better care for patients after they come back to the community when we keep a close watch for complications that might develop. I will definitely be sharing what I learned here with my colleagues.”

Much of how the workshop is configured is based on the advice of the group’s former mentor, Arthur P. “Art” Wheeler, MD, professor of Medicine and the longtime director of VUMC’s Adult Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). Wheeler died of cancer in late 2015, but his support of advanced practice providers in the intensive care setting continues to be one of his many legacies.

When the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at VUMC grew from 26 to 34 beds with the opening of the Critical Care Tower, Wheeler designed and developed an MICU nurse practitioner program, now a national model, that provides around-the-clock coverage for MICU patients. Today, Vanderbilt’s six adult and two pediatric ICUs include 24/7 ACNP/PA coverage.

Even the boot camp’s official logo, a well-worn cowboy boot with a stethoscope draped across it, is a permanent tribute to Wheeler.

“He was a world-renowned physician but down-to-earth, and he would stop at any moment to help anyone, including NPs and PAs who were eager to learn,” Kapu said. “Having his boot and stethoscope as our symbol is just one way that we’re acknowledging his contribution and overwhelming support of critical care nurse practitioners and physician assistants.”

There are now more than 300,000 advanced practice registered nurses nationwide, and more than 1,000 practice at VUMC, Kapu said. Advanced practice registered nurses include certified registered nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. These practitioners are educated in nationally accredited programs and are clinically trained and board certified in their area of practice. In addition, VUMC employs more than 60 physician assistants, another growing advanced practice profession.

The boot camp would not be possible without the dedication of VUMC’s own ACNPs and PAs, who begin planning the event each year as soon as the last one ends, Kapu said.

“The thing that has impressed me the most about boot camp this year was everyone’s level of engagement,” said Cameron. “Without any shadow of doubt, this conference can serve as an agent of change, and we look at it as that. When the attendees come here, they learn so much that hopefully it will inspire them and light a fire under them to go back to their own institutions and share what they’ve learned.”

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