How Swimming with the Sharks Saw Nursing Students’ Success Soar

Now more than ever, today’s health care workforce requires nurses who think like ‘scientists’ and use the latest evidence and innovations at the bedside to deliver the best health care possible to patients.

But for most undergraduate nursing students, research can be a hard sell.

To help students realize just how important understanding research methods and procedures can be in clinical practice, six UF College of Nursing faculty unveiled a few tricks up their sleeve that ensured their success and improved average course ratings by nearly 50%  — even after Gator Nurses received an invitation to swim with the ‘sharks.’

The new face of nursing

shark tank 1

The UF College of Nursing’s Lead and Inspire 2: Research and Evidence-Based Nursing Practice class traditionally bridges the gap between the classroom and clinical practice. Serving as the foundation for students to learn about nursing care, the course teaches Gator Nurses to address clinical and public health problems they might encounter throughout their nursing career, from the simulation lab to the patient’s bedside.

But during the Fall 2020 semester, faculty faced a new challenge: adapting the class to prepare nurses for what the profession would look like in the face of COVID-19.

The semester-long class soon was transformed to introduce students to the idea of integrating knowledge, judgment and scientific evidence into professional nursing — an idea known as evidence-based practice — using several new learning activities. According to Clinical Assistant Professor Bryce Catarelli, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, helping students understand how to use current research and their own clinical expertise to provide evidence-based care could set the stage for their success by positively influencing their career progression.

“We recognized that the next generation to solve some of the world’s most complicated health problems would begin with Gator Nurses, and we embarked on a multi-semester quest to re-envision this course,” said Assistant Professor Staja “Star” Booker, PhD, RN “This knowledge is critical to advancing quality care in nursing and developing future nurse scientists and practice leaders who care, lead and inspire. I like to call my students “bedside scientists” because every day, they are conducting investigations in order to care for their patients.”

Thanks to the reimagined course, which featured guest lectures from bedside nurses and clinical faculty engaging in evidence-based practice, reviews of real-life clinical case studies and research articles, an online sepsis simulation and a requirement to attend a professional nursing conference, students learned what it means to be a nurse who uses real-life evidence to address clinical problems.

In the four semesters since the course was redesigned, Gator Nurses have found the experience especially rewarding. The new format also helped instructor and class evaluations soar to new heights — improving significantly in just a few months. These striking findings were recently published in the scientific journal Worldviews on Evidence Based Nursing.

According to anonymous midterm evaluations, multiple students described enjoying their first exposure to EBP and reported improved critical thinking skills. The perspectives and knowledge learned during the course inspired many to seek out opportunities throughout their careers to use evidence-based practice and improve their own work environments.

But their most memorable moment from the course was its final assessment, which saw them put their research and innovation skills to the test.

Taking the plunge

To demonstrate how they would use evidence-based practice to improve patient care, Gator Nurses dove into the college’s very own version of Shark Tank. Using research collected over the course of the semester, student teams presented proposals of innovations created from independent research findings to faculty ‘sharks’ from various disciplines. But in order to reach the “Tank,” student groups needed to pass their first test – being selected by their peers to represent their class section.

The projects, which included a technique for supporting mothers during their post-partum period, a monitoring teddy bear to keep parents informed in real-time while their baby is cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and an artificially-intelligence supported sepsis detection tool, were evaluated by the judges to determine how each project could be translated to real-life clinical settings.

For most students, the opportunity to ‘swim’ with the sharks and try their own hand at evidence-based nursing practice was its own reward.

 “Everything we learned during the semester came together,” said BSN junior Katherine Maloney, a member of “Jumbo Shrimpies,” the challenge’s first-place team. “We were able to problem-solve on our feet and hearing feedback from faculty who are real-life research experts in their field was especially rewarding.”

Thanks to the new experience, the Lead and Inspire 2 teaching team believe that Gator Nurses left the course armed with more knowledge than ever before.

 “Teaching research and how nurses use evidence-based practice in their work is both challenging and rewarding,” said Assistant Professor Lisa Scarton, PhD, RN. “By drastically improving the ‘real-life’ relevance of course content we hope that students will continue to remain engaged in future semesters as well as improve their knowledge base and outcomes, helping them develop into well-prepared nurses of tomorrow.”