Personalized nursing education? There’s an app for that

How a lifelong learner is using technology to train the next generation of nurses

Nurse educator Giuliana Nava likes to tell people she’s a “professional novice,” continually learning new skills and new ways to help students and patients.

“I had always known that my calling in life was help others, but it took me some time to find my path in nursing,” she said, “It was not until my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer that I understood the meaning of being a nurse.”

I remember the nurses who cared for her and my family during such a troubling time, who translated the technical information the doctors would tell us into simple language we were able to understand. Nurse Janaina cared for my loved one as if she were part of the family, with a caring touch, a powerful presence … and expert authority. This is when I realized Nurse Janaina embodied all the qualities I pursued in life.

For Nava and a whole new generation of educators and students, technology is a tool to make treatment – and education – personalized and compelling. With technology to help her tailor her teaching methods, Nava’s is inspiring future nurses with her unending passion for learning.

Tailoring learning and care with technology

Nava is one of the nurse educators responsible for training students to become one of more than 3 million nurses in the United States. This might seem like a lot, but even more nurses are needed to care for a growing – and aging – population. According to Dr. Roy L. Simpson, VP of Nursing for Cerner Corp, technology can provide a new approach to nursing education that will support the education of more nurses. In a blog post for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, he explained that replacing the traditional approach to medical education with learning in virtual environments could increase the number of nurses trained as well as deepening their skills:

In a virtual environment, nurses can repeat skills-based lessons as often as they need with absolutely no impact on actual patients. Additionally, the ‘always on’ component of virtual learning lends itself nicely to the model of employed nurses working during off hours to advance their education.

In 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, now the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, launched a two-year initiative to assess and transform the nursing profession. The resulting report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommends that education be “augmented” using technology.

This is familiar territory for Nava, who uses technology to give students a tailored learning experience. She runs simulations with her students using a SimMan – a mannequin that can exhibit blood pressure changes, shortness of breath, dizziness and many more symptoms. Student nurses are expected to react the way they would in a clinical situation. In some countries, simulation has already replaced clinical education in nursing, and Nava believes it will be a big part of her teaching in the future.

I like it because it’s a controlled environment – you can expose students to critical situations so they still get a rush of adrenaline reacting to an emergency. Then we can play it back to them and address how they could improve their performance. It’s a wonderful teaching aid for us, and it’s less pressure for the students: somebody’s life is not in your hands.

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There are also many apps nurses can use to help them, such as VeinSeek, which shows more clearly where a patient’s veins are, improving the student’s chance of hitting one. There are apps for looking up medications so nurses can check a medicine’s interactions with other drugs, alerting the doctor if something had been missed. And there are algorithms for how to treat someone with a condition, such as pneumonia or a stroke, which take nurses through the process step-by-step so they cover all bases.

Technology has made a big change in how we approach teaching. I share apps with my students because I know they’re all about technology; it’s part of their daily lives. It can also help allay their nerves in certain situations. It’s nerve-wracking walking into a patient’s room for the first time, and apps like this can help give them more confidence. It’s important to learn from new situations – they can inspire you and push you forward.

In nursing, there are different stages of clinical proficiency for every skill the nurse learns, like drawing a patient’s blood. They begin as a novice, then beginner, then proficient and finally expert.

I joke that I’ve become a professional novice – every time I get comfortable with a skill, I want to do something else. I have this inner drive to learn different things and become well rounded in my profession.

For Nava, it’s the ability to customize the approach that drives her.

You can’t use a cookie-cutter approach. I had patients from all over the world, and many didn’t speak English; trying to impose our way on them wouldn’t work. Different generations also require different approaches: patients in their 20s often expect to download an app to monitor their blood pressure and medications, whereas someone in their 70s might prefer me to draw diagrams (although I’ve met plenty of older people more technologically savvy than me)! It takes time to get to know patients so you can tailor your teaching to their needs.

Technology also let students master the coursework according to their own learning styles, she explained:

Some like to read about it and jump right in, some want to read then observe you first, some are ok with just walking in and completing the skill. It’s all about how you tailor the teaching to your audience. Every time I look at my students, I see a little of myself in them, it’s wonderful to see them so passionate about learning.

Approaching education with technology can help personalize students’ learning paths, a premise that is behind Elsevier’s new personalized learning system, Sherpath. Designed for student nurses and educators, it helps students make their own way through course material, giving them the information, feedback and data they need to progress along the way.

For the next generation of educators and students, technology is an extension of personal aspirations, making education personalized and compelling. With technology to help her tailor her teaching methods, Nava’s unending passion for learning is inspiring future nurses, helping them overcome their nerves, ask the right questions and become confident in new skills. And if they’re anything like her, they will aspire to be “professional novices” – lifelong learners who continue to use technology to help them become the well-rounded nurses millions of people rely on every day.


Sherpath is Elsevier’s new personalized learning solution. The first of its kind for nursing education, Sherpath uses data, analytics and adaptive technology to track students’ interactions with content, assessments and simulations while providing a highly focused learning path for each student. In addition, it empowers faculty to easily customize the learning modules to their specific course outcomes. Programs can now have real-time learning analytics to monitor their program against accrediting body standards and student success towards licensure.


Written by

Lucy Goodchild van Hilten

Written by

Lucy Goodchild van Hilten

After a few accidents, Lucy Goodchild van Hilten discovered that she’s a much better writer than a scientist. Following an MSc in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at Imperial College London, she became Assistant Editor of Microbiology Today. A stint in the press office at Imperial saw her stories on the front pages, and she moved to Amsterdam to work at Elsevier as Senior Marketing Communications Manager for Life Sciences. She’s now a freelance writer at Tell Lucy. Tweet her @LucyGoodchild.


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