GVSU Offers Rare Learning Setting

October 17, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — One of the leading undergraduate medical training programs and facilities in the state is situated on the corner of Michigan and Lafayette.

The Grand Valley State University School of Health Professions in the new Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences offers students a one-of-a-kind opportunity: the chance to learn in a simulated medical environment neatly laid out in a state-of-the-art building.

A quick tour of the third level, home to the Kirkhof School of Nursing and known as the Brooks Family floor, reveals why those statements are fact. On that floor, a student will find nursing assessment and hospital simulation labs, a patient suite, an ergonomics lab, and a home health lab. One flight down, on the Leslie E. Tassell floor, is the physical therapy lab.

In this hands-on surrounding, students learn clinical skills, diagnostic skills, requirements for ICU, NICU and isolation work, home health care, and occupational health practices in an array of work settings.

“The labs that are in this building are really designed to have our students be ready to hit the floor running when they go into a clinical setting,” said Jane Toot, director of the GVSU School of Health Professions.

“Often times, universities do not do that,” she added.

Why? Because it’s quite expensive to turn a classroom into a lab or suite that replicates a clinical atmosphere, and most institutes of higher learning don’t have the financial resources readily available to do so.

But at the same time, it takes more than money to construct these rooms properly. It also takes expertise. Toot said the school’s deans and department heads were very involved in the design process, as they met with architects from local design firm Design Plus for three hours every Wednesday morning for two years.

“We went through it lab by lab. The whole thing that we wanted in the building, which was to encourage small group work and interdisciplinary kinds of activity, were what drove this building,” said Toot.

Another motivation behind the design was that health care professionals don’t have the time today to train graduates like they had a decade or two ago. Toot said the school wants GVSU grads to be able to be familiar with the setting they’re headed into before they arrive,  and then be quick readers of the details once they get there.

So, as Toot pointed out, the physical surroundings at the Center for Health Sciences gives GVSU students a considerable advantage over many of their counterparts at competing universities, whose labs were built some time ago and don’t capture today’s medical setting.

“We have a unique cluster at Grand Valley and our allied health programs and nursing is unique in the state,” she said. “We used our resources to put groups together so they could work together.”

For example, physical therapy students, along with those in the occupational therapy, occupational safety and bio-med engineering programs, learn in the ergonomics lab.

“We tried to build the building so that the various labs — though these might have primary schedulers — would still be able to meet the needs of subgroups of folks,” said Toot.

A goodly portion of the center is devoted to high-tech medical fields, as plenty of scientific labs are situated on the building’s fourth and fifth levels. With much of today’s patient care, however, being shifted from a hospital to a home setting, the school’s faculty and staff felt that home care had to have a prominent place in the $53 million structure.

“So students are going to have to know not only how to work in a high-tech setting, but also how to teach a patient to function in his home,” said Toot.

In addition to the nursing school and life sciences curriculum housed in the center, students can also learn physical therapy, occupational therapy, occupational safety and health, clinical lab science and medical imaging there. Physician assistant studies, a fast growing master’s degree program and discipline, are also taught in the building. Master’s degrees in health sciences and biology are also offered there.

And there is a need for fresh and bright medical talent throughout the industry. Toot told the Business Journal that the field can use 11 percent more nurses than it has now and 18 percent more radiography graduates. An aging population is one reason why so many are needed so badly.

Another? There are more chronic cases today than in the past that require a more holistic approach to providing care.

“The other thing that we’re seeing is a lot of things have become chronic in nature, like cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s are all chronic conditions now. So these patients can be with us for decades,” said Toot.

“And the need to provide care for these people is growing.”           

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