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Dedicated Education Unit 2.0 reimagines nursing clinicals

Dedicated education units (DEU) are a type of clinical experience for nursing students. This model embeds students directly into a hospital unit where working nurses focus on the educational experience in addition to their full-time responsibilities.

In the past, dedicated education units were organized by administrators, not “boots on the ground” nurses. Beginning this fall semester, the new DEU 2.0 isn’t playing by the old rules.

“We’re calling this model the DEU two-point-oh because it was created by nurses, for nurses,” said Angie Philips, director of the pre-license nursing program. “All of us that helped work on this, we all have been nurses.”

Not only that, but the School of Nursing team purposely partnered with St. Luke’s staff while developing the clinical experience. The group’s goal is to benefit both students and the nurses within the healthcare system.

“We did it collaboratively, and I don’t think that’s been done before,” said Phillips.

The history of Dedicated Education Units

These types of clinical units aren’t a new concept. In fact, it’s one that has been around for decades.

“Until the 1940’s, nursing education primarily occurred within a hospital setting,” said Phillips. “You graduate from high school, they send you into a hospital and that’s your entire school, there with the unit.”

As nursing education shifted to the academic setting, a gap developed between learning in the classroom and actually practicing in the hospital.

Dedicated education units exist as a way to bridge that gap. But never before has it looked quite like Boise State’s DEU 2.0.

Double-duty: Students and healthcare systems benefit

What’s unique about this model is that it minimizes the stress on St. Luke’s staff nurses while maximizing the student experience.

Fewer students will rotate through shifts that are less than the typical 12 hours; a shorter shift is more manageable for the students, and a smaller group of students is more manageable for staff nurses.

Additionally, the DEU 2.0 “allows the students and nurses to build trust and intimacy together,” said Phillips. This will lead to more hands-on experiences for students as staff nurses better understand their capabilities over the course of the semester.

Student nurses are trained to do specific skills without having a licensed nurse watch them, but “we would like to develop more of their competence, their clinical reasoning and judgment,” said clinical assistant professor Sarah Wegrzyn, who oversees the Boise State-side of the dedicated education unit. “By having [students] consistently on the same floor, that’s really going to build them up.”

This clinical model equips students with the professional skills and confidence that they need to enter the workforce.

“In a sense, it’s like 15 weeks of on-the-job training,” Phillips said.

Collaboration with maximum impact

The two teams are excited to see how the clinical model pays off. Extending the partnership, Boise State and St. Luke’s are working on a joint research project.

They’ll evaluate the effectiveness of the DEU 2.0 by comparing it with traditional clinical models. By publishing their research, they hope other schools and healthcare systems will be able to create their own highly-effective versions.

“The ultimate goal is that at some point, we have three or four dedicated education units occurring at a health system,” said Phillips.