September 18, 2014

Critical care skills workshop draws nurses from across U.S.

A small group of acute care nurse practitioners and physician assistants urgently crowded around the bedside of a mannequin hooked up to a ventilator and an IV.

Attendees of last week’s ACNP/PA Boot Camp hone their critical care skills on a mannequin in Vanderbilt’s Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment.

A small group of acute care nurse practitioners and physician assistants urgently crowded around the bedside of a mannequin hooked up to a ventilator and an IV.

As the plastic man’s chest rose and fell, the group was tasked with figuring out what was wrong with the patient. The answer: He was in septic shock, and if it were a real patient, a quick and accurate diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death.

It was one of several similar scenes going on at the Student Life Center and the Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment (CELA) Lab in Light Hall last week during the 2014 ACNP/PA Boot Camp. The event brought as many as 160 critical care nurse practitioners and physician assistants from 31 states for three days of sharpening skills that they would bring back to their home hospitals.

“The boot camp is a great way to share our knowledge and resources with a national audience,” said Marilyn Dubree, MSN, R.N., executive chief nursing officer. “We are proud of our nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and hope to inspire others to make changes that will support nurses to work at the top of their licenses. We are also excited to showcase our excellent interdisciplinary processes and are honored to have such collaborative colleagues.”

The acute care nurse practitioners (ACNPs) and physicians assistants (PAs) at the boot camp are part of an emerging field of specialized advanced practice nurses who combine traditional nursing knowledge with the ability to diagnose, order tests and treat acute illnesses.

“The patients that they take care of are critically ill, unstable patients,” said organizer April Kapu, DNP, APRN, ACNP-BC, assistant director of Advance Practice Critical Care at Vanderbilt University Hospital. “These practitioners are learning concepts related to taking care of those patients.”

Vanderbilt has nearly 700 advanced practice nurses and physician assistants. The boot camp is a way for this specialized subset of ACNPs and PAs elsewhere to learn from them.

“It’s an eye-opening or an enlightening experience that the job that they do at their local hospital may have a lot more possibilities to it,” said Arthur Wheeler, M.D., medical director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit.

“They’re learning best practices, but I think we’re also expanding their horizons about the capabilities of their jobs.”

Lectures, panels and hands-on activities covered topics such as ventilator management, reading CT scans and neurological emergencies. Thirty-three faculty members participated. Each year, the program is refined with cutting-edge research.

“The entire conference is built on evidence,” Kapu said. “Current critical care concepts, research trials, articles and application of evidence are discussed.”

This is the third year for the conference, said Billy Cameron, MSN, APRN, ACNP-BC, Surgical Critical Care Practitioner.

“The reason we started it was to fill a deficit,” he said. “There was no other conference that we knew of in the country for NPs and PAs that specifically worked in ICU. So we wanted to fill that gap, and we also wanted it to be a conference by NPs, for NPs.”

The idea for boot camp was launched by Janna Landsperger, MSN, APRN, ACNP-BC, a nurse practitioner in the Medical Intensive Care Unit, and orchestrated by a dedicated group of critical care NPs and PAs from each of Vanderbilt’s ICUs. It was almost instantly successful. The first conference had about 50 attendees, last year’s conference had about 100 and this year’s class exceeds 150. Increasingly, these professionals are at a patient’s side in a critical care situation.

Lee Parmley, M.D., J.D., chief of staff of Vanderbilt University Hospital, participated in the conference. To him, it comes down to this: “How do we get the right people available at the bedside? It has to be about the patients.”