June 25, 2004

Nursing students utilize the power of the Palm

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From left, Kathy Chojnacki and Amanda Lowry, both second-year pediatric nurse practitioner students, use their Palm Pilots in their “Current Issues in the Delivery of Advanced Pediatric Care” nursing class. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Nursing students utilize the power of the Palm

by Heather L. Hall

Many students in the School of Nursing now have lighter loads after ditching some of their clunky textbooks for a reference they can hold in the palm of their hands.

With a variety of classroom textbooks and other reference materials available to students electronically, many specialties at VUSN are now requiring students to carry a Palm Pilot or a personal digital assistant (PDA). This has helped students use the technology everywhere from the classroom to a patient’s bedside.

“We’re changing practice as we go with this device,” said Renee McLeod, professor and director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program at VUSN. McLeod, who has a doctorate of nursing science, has been instrumental in bringing the technology to the attention of students and other faculty at the nursing school, and has been called on to speak all over the country for her expertise in the area.

McLeod said very few professors are using the device in graduate education, and even fewer in the undergraduate setting.

Palm Pilots or PDAs are small devices that operate on a chargeable battery. They are compact enough to fit in your hand or slip into your pocket, yet the tiny tool can carry more information than a stack of books and can perform tasks just like your home or office computer.

“The technology can help decrease medical errors common in prescribing, and you can save two hours a day or more in time using the device, which is incredibly valuable when you consider providers, their patients, and waiting times.”

Betsy Weiner, Ph.D., professor and senior associate dean of Informatics at the School of Nursing, said McLeod has helped create innovative ways to use the technology in nursing education.

“Our students are required to keep something we call a clinical log. It is a patient encounter form where the students collect data about the kinds of skills they’re developing in their clinical practice, and it can all be recorded using their PDA,” Weiner said.

She said faculty members and the preceptor for the clinical practice can also use the clinical log to record feedback and make adjustments to a student’s off-site training. Weiner said the device is also replacing textbooks and reference books for many nursing students.

“It’s hard to memorize information on recommended doses of medications, and if we have them memorize a bunch of facts, that’s not going to work in the long run, because what’s true this week is not true next week,” Weiner said.

“It’s an extra expense, but it’s much easier to handle than textbooks and probably not much more expensive once you buy all those textbooks anyway,” said Kathy Chojnacki, second- year pediatric nurse practitioner student.

Currently, the School of Nursing does not require every student to carry a Palm Pilot. The psychiatric, pediatric, and neonatal nurse practitioner specialties are the only programs currently requiring students to purchase Palm Pilots. Weiner said the school is leaning toward eventually requiring all students to carry the device.

Those interested in learning more about Palm Pilot technology can attend a Vanderbilt Advanced Practice Nurse Palm Users Group meeting, offered by the informatics team in the School of Nursing. Membership is free and open to the Medical Center community. To find out more, visit www.vapnpug.org.