Hidden Space Is Nurses’ Safe Place

It’s been called a “judgment free zone.”

Tucked away from hospital rooms filled with patients and the hallways bustling with caregivers and family members is a sort of learning lab for nurses at IU Health University Hospital.

“I can learn without being intimidated. It’s hands-on but I don’t have patients and family members watching me and I can ask as many questions as I want without fear,” said Brianna Fisher, who became a registered nurse last year. On a recent weekday she was joined by two other new nurses who were learning about critical care. The Professional Development Center is designed to provide scenario rooms where nurses can practice and improve their skills under the direction of peer educators.

One of those educators is Doris Bennett who has been a nurse for nearly 30 years.

“I never thought I’d leave bedside care but I’ve learned that you can’t complain about something unless you’re willing to do something to change the thing you’re complaining about,” said Bennett. About 10 years ago she said she complained about a lack of professional development for nurses.

“Without a good foundation, new nurses can’t provide excellent care to patients. Our work is so intense, technical and vital to patient outcome that if nurses don’t have the foundation that they need it puts the patient at risk,” said Bennett. Only so much learning can be done in the span of a college degree.

“There is a huge gulf between what they can get in nursing school and what they practice in real life. We are a hospital that is on the forefront of patient care. We have physicians who are research-driven and our nurses are going to see things practiced here that are written about in books that others will learn from,” said Bennett. All new nurses are taken through the paces of CORE – Clinical Orientation and Resource Education, a program where nurses demonstrate safe medication administration practices and complete assessment exams.

The Professional Development Center provides a space for additional learning. Following CORE, a five-day program established by the clinical educators and their manager, which is facilitated by bedside clinical experts, helps new nurses hone specific skills. And if, at any time, a nurse needs assistance with a particular task, the Professional Development Center is available for practice.

For Bennett, that means not only practicing technical skills but also exercising her creativity. She wants to provide a lifelike environment while working within certain parameters. For instance, the cost of equipment prohibits “practice testing” so she designs simulators from cardboard boxes and “patients” from Styrofoam heads and bath towels. Two wig mannequins have been named “Joan” and “Thad” and a stuffed doll is named “Stan.”

In a recent training, new nurses were learning about dialysis equipment. Part of the training was focused on the sounds of the machine; part was focused on setting up the device.

“I can’t take a dialysis machine away from a patient to use to teach every new nurse, but I can use one machine to teach several nurses and several cardboard boxes. There’s no cost to the patient if there are errors, and the trainees, aren’t afraid of making mistakes,” said Bennett.

“When we teach, we tell them about lessons we learned. We’re transparent but not perfect,” said Amy Jackson, one of the educators who was once a new nurse practicing her skills in the Professional Development Center. “We don’t want to seem like we know everything, we just want to be a liaison between what they already know and what they need to learn next. In nursing school you often are given the worst-case scenario. We want them to be able to take in the room, the environment and be able to assess and recognize the norms and develop confidence in their skills.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.