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Psychiatric Nursing Professor Uses Robots to Help Prepare Students for Real-World Situations

In November 2017, the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) School of Nursing Simulation Center introduced an addition to its inventory of cutting-edge technology: Robo-Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (RoboAPRN). The robot is part of the program’s “RoboAPRN: Telepresence Robots in Healthcare Education” project, which introduces student nurses to remote telehealth technology.

Donna Rolin, Ph.D., APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, is an assistant professor of clinical nursing and the director of the Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner program at UT Austin, as well as one of the directors of the RoboAPRN project. Combining her background as a psychiatric advanced practice registered nurse with the real-world experience of this program, she helps prepare students for treating patients with mental health illnesses in rural areas using telehealth technology.

Because telehealth technology is becoming much more commonplace in healthcare, integrating this into the classroom setting is essential, Dr. Rolin explained. This need for comprehensive education led to the development of the RoboAPRN program, which received funding from the UT Austin Faculty Innovation Center in 2017.

The primary goal of the program is to bring telehealth technology into the simulation lab, in order to stay up-to-date with the high-tech standards of the industry, while still maintaining human interaction and live simulations. The program helps to train students – piloted among those studying to be psychiatric nurses – to use telehealth, and ultimately, to help fill the shortage of psychiatric providers in rural areas while bridging undergraduate and graduate training through experiential learning.

“There is an extreme shortage of psychiatric providers across the United States, especially in far-off rural areas,” Dr. Rolin said. “This technology allows providers to stay in the cities, but still provide services to the people in rural areas who may not otherwise receive care.”

It’s because of this shortage that the RoboAPRN program is being piloted with psychiatric nursing students at UT Austin. Undergraduate nursing students can use the robot to virtually consult a psychiatric nurse practitioner student, who can use the technology to ask questions, zoom in or out on the patient and the examination room, and effectively participate in the simulation.

Nurse practitioners are more frequently taking jobs as frontline providers for mental health patients, which is why training them to use this technology competently is essential. Once the pilot phase of the program is complete, the simulation will expand to other primary care settings as well.

“The telehealth system is much more efficient, allowing us to bring the expertise and training of the whole team to the patient, without literally bringing the team,” Dr. Rolin said. “We have the potential to reach an exponentially larger number of patients with this technology.”

To learn more about the technology-focused simulations at UT Austin, visit the Simulation and Skills Center website here.

Experiential Learning Team/RoboAPRN Project: Valerie Danesh, Donna Rolin, Scott Hudson, and Sean White.

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