Bridging the gap

St. Mary Medical Center earns top honors for poster presentation at International Nursing Conference

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

As a college student, the idea of nursing sounds great. Most earn a decent salary while helping people in the community. But soon enough, graduation comes and goes, and young nurses are flung into the real world to deal with different emergencies and illnesses each day. So how can one possibly prepare?

At St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, it’s all about bridging that gap between school and the real world with its advanced Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program. On June 23, St. Mary’s Ruth Crothers (PhD, MSN, PN-BC, AGCNS-BC) and Missy Halligan (MSN, RN, CCRN, CHSE) earned first place for their poster presentation highlighting the program at the 2017 International Nursing Association of Clinical Simulation and Learning Conference.

Much deserved: Missy Halligan and Ruth Crothers earned first place at the 2017 International Nursing Association of Clinical Simulation and Learning Conference for their presentation and poster. Photo: Thomas Logue

The primary mission of St. Mary’s nurse residency program is to help new nurses make the transition from the classroom to caring for patients on a daily basis. The goal is to reduce their anxiety, make them comfortable in their career choice and ultimately increase patient safety.

Last year, the program had 30 new nurses, and St. Mary saw a stark contrast in its retention rates compared to the rest of the country. The national turnover rate was 30 percent while its was only 5 percent. This can be directly attributed to the highlight of the program — clinical simulation.

Three years ago, certified health-care simulation educator Halligan was hired at St. Mary with the explicit purpose of building up the simulation aspect of the residency program. The hospital had the mannequins and equipment, but no one with experience to carry out the big picture.

Within the program, Halligan developed opportunities for new nurses to practice and experience emergency situations not typically seen on a daily basis. It’s easy to become a pro at daily tasks like taking blood pressure, but it’s knowing what to do in those rare emergencies that requires special training. Real-life clinical situations are imitated, and the nurses have to act as if it were a sick patient.

After the simulated activity is completed, a debriefing takes place during which nurses receive constructive feedback and learn from one another. They discuss what could have been done differently and what methods or equipment may have been more appropriate than the ones chosen.

“It allows the learner to learn through the art of learning,” Halligan said.

This simulated way of learning not only helps new nurses in their training, but increases patient safety. By allowing them to work with and diagnose lifelike mannequins, nurses are able to learn the risks and improve the process before coming into contact with human lives.

“Clinical simulation is the best way for nurses to learn about patient safety,” said St. Mary director of organizational development Monica Lozaga, RN. “Simulating clinical issues in a realistic setting helps our nurses identify practice gaps that we can mitigate to prevent adverse events from happening with real patients. I am proud of these nurses for writing and presenting this poster.”

After getting the simulation program up and running, Halligan expanded it beyond recent graduates. Although the technology is new, she’s been able to encourage older, veteran nurses to participate as well. According to Halligan, they’ve been enjoying the hands-on experience and have asked if she can do simulation activities during their night shifts as well.

“They’re starting to see the benefits in their own departments,” she said.

After three years of working to create a top-notch simulation program for new nurses, Halligan said it was an honor for herself and Crothers to receive recognition from outside of their organization.

Attendees at the INACSL Conference are nurse educators, researchers, nurse managers and staff development professionals from around the world who understand the struggles associated with clinical simulation and are constantly working to change the way learning looks. For these health-care professionals, it’s the ideal environment to gain current knowledge in simulation enhanced education.

“New nurses need clinical skills as soon as they hit the door,” Halligan said.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at