Senator Susan Collins assists two University of Maine at Fort Kent students, Nicole Caddell and Nathan Wall, in a simulated birth presentation at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Credit: David DiMinno / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The University of Maine System’s 1,822 nursing students will have an easier time completing their clinical hours with a new simulation classroom on wheels.

The University of Maine System has received $1 million in congressional funding secured by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to construct a mobile simulation van for nursing students.

The 40-foot vehicle will be outfitted with two simulation stations for pediatric and obstetrics study that can be run simultaneously, as well as two control stations, a discussion room and a storage room. Previously, the only fully functional obstetrics training labs were in Bangor and Portland. The mobile van will provide a cost-effective way for students to get their clinical hours closer to home.

The time students complete in the van will count toward the clinical hours they need to graduate.

“It’s a mobile unit that looks just like a hospital inside,” Kelley Strout, interim associate dean of health science at the University of Maine in Orono, said. “The unit will be able to simulate various health conditions, and we will have trained staff operating the vehicle to provide feedback for students.”

While some schools, like the University of Maine at Presque Isle, have access to pediatric and obstetric simulators, many schools in the UMaine system do not. The alternative would be to outfit each school with simulators like those at the Presque Isle campus, but that would be costly, according to Dr. Deborah Roark, UMPI’s executive director of university advancement and external affairs.  

Maine’s only two hospitals designed for critical pregnancy care are in Bangor and Portland, Roark said. There is a need up north for more qualified individuals who can handle rapidly changing situations and potential complications during the birth process.  

“It’s a really great opportunity to be able to go through the process for delivering a baby, because oftentimes in rural areas, you may have to help do that,” Roark said. “We have only two hospitals, Bangor and Portland, where you can go if you have a critical-care situation for a pregnancy, but we are two and a half hours north, which is great distance for a patient.”

The van, which will cost from $600,000 to $700,000, would mirror the simulator that UMPI has set up on the bottom floor of Folsom Hall.

Collins visited the Presque Isle lab in February to see how the technology worked. While she was there, she looked through the simulator’s virtual reality equipment and aided in a delivery during a simulated birth.

Nicole Caddell, a nursing student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, said that while clinical rotations are enlightening, they don’t always account for every possibility or outcome.

“Having access to a state-of- the-art simulation lab for our labor and delivery course has been both a privilege and instructive experience,” she said.  

By using the simulation technology, students can immerse themselves in different scenarios that they may encounter in their field. The hours spent in the lab allow them to practice critical thinking and conflict resolution, while enabling them to reflect on what they could have done better in a given situation, Caddell said.

“This gives us a competitive edge when entering the workforce because we are better prepared for these high-intensity situations,” Caddell said.

There is no estimate available on when the system can expect to receive the mobile simulation unit.

Also in the works are plans for some other UMaine System locations to receive on-site simulation stations for training.

David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.