Nurse Refresher Students Get a Hand from Handhelds: To Help Ease the Technology Shock for Nurses Who Have Been out of the Field for More Than 5 Years, My Medical Library Collaborated with Administrators of a Nursing Education Program to Purchase PDAs and Load Them with Appropriate Software. Here Are the Steps We Followed and What We Learned

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Returning registered nurses face an uphill challenge when re-entering their field. To help ease the technology shock for those who have been out of the field for more than 5 years, the library I worked at introduced a project between 2004 and 2005 to loan Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to Nurse Refresher students as a strategy to expedite the students' orientation to the clinical area during their rotations in hospitals. Today's nurse is burdened with bulging pockets of reference guides and drug books. But a PDA can hold dozens of guides and books and is searchable with a tap of the stylus.

The Wake AHEC Registered Nurse Refresher Program

The Wake Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Registered Nurse (RN) Refresher Program is designed to return registered nurses to practice. Wake AHEC is part of a national program that, among other duties, facilitates educational programs for medical professionals. Wake AHEC, located at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., includes a library that serves nine counties across central North Carolina. There are four librarians and three support staff members. I am Helen Colevins. I was the user's services librarian for 6 years. Kathy Clark, associate director of the Nursing Education Program, and Diana Bond, director of program services, collaborated with the medical librarians to write and submit a grant to the North Carolina AHEC Program Office in April and May of 2004. The grant was used to help introduce PDA technology in the clinical setting to RN Refresher students.

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Kathy and Diana understood Refresher students' needs for in-house PDA expertise. Because of my technology background and experience with Palms, I was asked to be part of the grant project. I was the tech consultant for PDAs and software and the sole liaison with the library. I also created the learning materials, designed the instruction, and carried out the hands-on training with the nurses. The medical library was the perfect partner to help with this project, since we could catalog and check out the PDAs as well as train the nursing students.

Currently, more than 50 healthcare organizations partner with Wake AHEC to provide the clinical practicum (practice units) portion of the RN Refresher Program, and more than 1,100 RNs have enrolled since its inception in 1990. Once students complete the series of medical surgical didactic modules (classroom instruction), they are placed in clinical practicums, which take place in acute medical surgical units in local hospitals. The students work one-on-one with a registered nurse (preceptor) who gives them clinical instruction and evaluates their skills and competencies while they work on the unit for 160 hours. During the last 5 years of assisting these nurses, the preceptors noticed a lack of both the knowledge of the technological aspects of nursing care as well as the skills needed to use the technology.

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Taking the First Steps

As the project began, we had to resolve several issues. We needed to do these things:

1. Select software and decide which PDA to purchase.

2. Set up a computer in the library to download the software and hotsync the PDAs.

3. Create a system to check the PDAs in and out to the RN Refresher students.

4. Establish a training system to introduce the students to the PDAs and to instruct them on how to use the software.

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5. Because the library did not own the items being checked out, we needed to draw up an agreement for replacement costs if the PDAs or expansion cards were lost or stolen. We had the students sign the agreements after training.

Selecting Hardware and Software for the Program

I recommended the Palm E2 in June 2004. There were several reasons behind my decision: The devices cost less than $200 and had a color display and 32 megabytes of memory; there were more medical applications in the Palm format than for the Microsoft platform; and, at the time, a 128-megabyte expansion card was included as a bonus. …