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Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Innovation Grant Funding to Bolster Nursing Clinical Skills


A low-cost clinical skills trainer, developed to assist Ferris State University Nursing students in their mastery of various manual patient care activities, moves from the prototype phase to unit production, with the help of an Innovation Grant from Ferris’ External and International Operations department.

Luke Hedman, assistant professor of Product Design Engineering Technology, is director of Ferris Makerspace. This open laboratory is a free resource to the entire Ferris community, an intentional hotspot for collaborative projects.

Hedman described the creation of the clinical skills trainer as another creative response to COVID-19 challenges.

“The isolation of students and instructors meant that clinical practices were often put on hold,” Hedman said. “Lenna Westerkamp and Pam Smyth, from the College of Health Professions, came to us during the fall semester, hoping to create a device that would allow Nursing students to practice clinical skills at home.”

Westerkamp, the Nursing Lab Coordinator for the School of Nursing and an alumna of that program, said their in-class model helps students learn techniques for intubation of the trachea, nasal gastric tube installation and other procedures. The hope was to offer a mannequin-like figure students can have off-site to learn these skills.

“Catheterization is one of the procedures to be learned in the lab. Clearing a trachea tube is another skill we wanted to simulate with these figures,” Westerkamp said. “Assistant professors Shannon Love and Pam Smyth also gave input on the level of accessibility we were after, such that a student might be able to manipulate a section of our prototype and determine whether a mass beneath the skin might be a tumor.”

Some medical equipment companies have developed products to allow the at-home practice of clinical skills, but according to Hedman, most are expensive and not very realistic or durable.

“One existing product is essentially a cardboard box with a rubber body parts on each side,” Hedman said. “That is definitely low fidelity, but it would allow students to practice a few important procedures.”

Hedman said this collaboration’s goal was to offer students a portable trainer more similar to the classroom’s mannequins and simulate a patient’s head, torso, pelvic region, and upper arm.

“We brainstormed a list of clinical procedures the students would need to practice before the generation of a modular design concept that would be low-cost and easy to transport.” Hedman said. “I turned to Mel Danes, a faculty member in Digital Animation and Game Design, who has expertise in digital sculpting. He can create models that are as accurate and detailed as existing medical mannequins.”

Westerkamp said they look forward to entering beta testing of their prototype after the academic year is complete.

“We hope to complete those reviews of the trainer in the summer and fall 2021 semesters,” Westerkamp said. “We are thankful for the talent of our peers across campus that has us to this point and look forward to advancing this instruction when the process is complete.”

Hedman said that the next generations of the prototype are too large to be 3D printed at the Ferris Makerspace. The team is getting help from 3DXTech, a Grand Rapids-based 3D printing company that Ferris alumnus Matt Howlett co-founded. The full-scale prototypes will undergo student testing to finalize the design before they are manufactured through a latex foam casting process.

“The Innovation Grant provided by Extended and International Operations plays a key role in bringing this project to fruition,” Hedman said. “Their support provides the funding for developing and testing the design, building the final products, and purchasing the medical supplies needed to practice clinical skills.”