State-of-the-art nursing lab prepares students for life after The Cliff

Trudi Corey, Sioux City, and David Tillman, Le Mars, Iowa, observe while Dr. Traci Holmquist demonstrates how to check heart and lung sounds on SimMan, a lifelike patient in BCU’s nursing lab.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Madison Runland learned that there is more to nursing than dispensing pills and following the doctor’s orders during a summer nursing camp at Briar Cliff.

The Guthrie Center High School senior, who has wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember, pressed the shiny stainless steel end of a stethoscope against a medical mannequin's chest as it rose and fell. Four of her peers crowded around a hospital bed in the Briar Cliff nursing lab and watched intently as a monitor beeped overhead.

“I’ve always liked to help people since I was little,” Runland said. “And my grandma is a nurse.”

“Nursing changes every day and people who aren’t willing to learn and try new things will not last long in the profession."

— Dr. Traci Holmquist, assistant professor of nursing

During the three-day summer camp, participants, who traveled from as far away as Arizona, took vitals, viewed ahuman cadaver, toured Mercy Medical Center and learned about alternative therapies, such as aroma therapy and meditation.

Assistant professor of nursing Dr. Traci Holmquist said flexibility, good communication skills and a willingness to be a life-long learner are essential attributes to succeeding in nursing.

“Nursing changes every day and people who aren’t willing to learn and try new things will not last long in the profession,” she said.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, from 2005 to 2010 the number of full-time nurses grew by 386,000. In spite of this growth, Dr. Holmquist said a “huge” shortage of nurses will persist as waves of Baby Boomers age.

James Ferdig of Ponca, Neb., a freshman at Briar Cliff, said he hopes to one day work in an emergency room or ICU. “It’s something different every day,” said Ferdig. “I like the patient interaction and getting to help people.”


“Hands-on experience is the best teacher, especially when learning how to care for medical patients,” said Dr. Gretchen Wheelock, assistant professor of nursing at Briar Cliff. “That’s why BCU provides nursing students with the latest technology in Human Patient Simulators to prepare them for a variety of careers in hospitals, clinics and care facilities,” Dr. Wheelock explained.

“Hands-on experience is the best teacher."

— Dr. Gretchen Wheelock, assistant professor of nursing

Briar Cliff’s adult SimMan and infant SimNewbie – computer-driven life-sized mannequins that speak and breathe – give students practice with true-to-life, everchanging scenarios to meet learning goals.

With a heartbeat and pulse these human patient simulators exhibit lifelike clinical signals in response to a variety of programmable scenarios. Nursing faculty can create medical scenarios by pre-programming the electronic manikin to display specific symptoms or run a case on-the-fly for students to treat.

Briar Cliff nursing graduates have a 100-percent employment rate, and every BCU nursing alum who has applied to graduate school has been accepted. No other nursing program in Iowa provides more clinical experience (800 hours, including a 100-hour senior clinical preceptorship). Briar Cliff nursing faculty are all active in clinical practice and professional nursing organizations


When BCU junior Ethan Neff graduates with a BSN in 2015, he may have a bit of a swagger, thanks to hands-on learning in Briar Cliff’s nursing patient simulation lab.

Extremely lifelike, the lab’s simulated adult and child patients are giving nursing students one of the most valuable attributes in career preparation: confidence.

“Working with patient simulators at first was a very scary and exciting experience,” admitted Neff, a Treynor, Iowa, native. “But the patient simulators are helping us practice what we are learning in class, especially how to save lives,” explained Neff, who aspires to be an ER or surgical nurse. “Working with SimMan is giving us confidence and teaching us to think on our feet.”

Tags: Academics, Nursing, CHCI