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Preparation + Practice

SMU Clinical Experience Makes It Ideal for Student Success

Students have many schools to select from when it comes to studying a particular health science field, but one of the top reasons they choose Samuel Merritt University is because of the early entry to clinical agencies to gain "hands-on experience" with real patients. In more than 1,400 different health institutions across the country, a majority of them in California, SMU students are interacting with patients of all ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds and working in diverse clinical settings, including acute care hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, social support agencies, and community shelters. Usually, clinical experiences start early in the program of study, often within the first year of enrollment.

"Although initially intimidating for some, students love early exposure to patients, both to test their theoretical knowledge borne of classroom experience, and to begin building the professional confidence that they have made a "right" career selection and can actually care for patients safely and effectively," explains Scot Foster, PhD, Academic Vice President and Provost. "At any one time there are at least 500 students a day in a metropolitan or rural clinical agency; most close to home, but others across the country."

Clinical areas in which Samuel Merritt University students learn are not limited to the traditional hospital environment, as was common in the past. Today's fast-paced clinical settings require that University faculty find new and inventive clinical settings in which students can learn. The University highly values the relationship it has developed with clinical agencies, and works to help those institutions understand the value and unique contributions SMU students make to their patients.

"One of the newest and increasingly common educational practices is to incorporate human simulation in a laboratory-based setting to prepare students better and faster to enter the clinical area. Simulation provides virtual real-time experiences with the basics of how to approach, plan and organize care," explains Dr. Foster. "We find that this is a valuable way to prepare students to take better advantage of real patient interactions, as their skill set is much greater and more sophisticated."

In the School of Nursing students are placed in clinical settings within the first year of enrollment. This provides students with early handson experience to practice the skills learned in class, lab or through simulation. The clinical experience for nursing students may occur on any day of the week and any shift. Undergraduate students are placed in acute care and community settings in groups of 8 to 10 students. They are accompanied by a clinical instructor who guides the learning process.

"Students become familiar with the role of the nurse in both acute and community care settings," explains Nancy Haugen, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing. "This allows them to become familiar with the nursing routines in both areas, and allows them to better understand the continuum of care." Graduate students in nursing are placed in a wide variety of settings, including hospital operating rooms for the nurse anesthetists, community care centers, clinics and numerous other venues which offer routine care and wellness options.

Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) students are seeing patients at the beginning of their second year. "Our clinical experiences are 100 percent hands-on and include secondyear rotations at the busy Alameda County Medical Center, which operates Highland Hospital, the San Francisco homeless shelters, and the SMU simulation center," explains Eric Stamps, DPM, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Assistant Professor. "Highland Hospital is a county teaching hospital with a solid educational culture. It has a high volume of patients, often with undertreated disease. Our students excel in this busy environment."

Third year podiatric clinical experiences extend throughout the year and include general surgery, internal medicine, biomechanics and three months of podiatric medicine and surgery. The third year also includes a month in a private practitioner's office. "The idea is to teach the students something about private practice, to allow students to form relationships with potential future business partners and to spread the word about our educational program," said Dr. Stamps. "Many of our private office practitioners have been involved with this program for decades."

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy students also have unique clinical environments. Portions of their clinical work take place in University sponsored clinics. These clinics focus on rehabilitation issues and serve individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits their skills of daily living, and serve those who have exhausted their health insurance. Michael De Rosa, PhD, MPH, PA-C, Chair of the Master Physician Assistant program, credits early clinical placement as one of the top reasons why his program has a 98 percent first time pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination for all graduates. (Average national first time pass rate over same period is 91 percent.)

The excellence of any type of practitioner is largely dependent on the quality and range of clinical care offered to students during their educational program. "These responsibilities are managed by dedicated faculty whose sole role is scheduling and managing clinical sites and their attendant contracts," adds Dr. Foster. "It is well accepted that in the academic community, these clinical coordinators have some of the toughest jobs handling a myriad of sites, contracts, student issues, scheduling, and of course, counseling and evaluating students through this most critical phase of their education."