Spring 2020 was a challenging time to be a health professional. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, experienced health care workers were expected to deal with new procedures and protocols, while new graduates needed to be able to hit the ground running, prepared to work safely and effectively from their first day.

For Kettering Health Network and its educational institution, Kettering College, the test presented by the pandemic was an opportunity to demonstrate the power and effectiveness of their educational programs and facilities.

Kettering College, part of the Kettering Health Network, is home to some 800 students who are pursuing training from the certificate level through the doctoral level in areas like nursing, physician assistant, occupational therapy, radiologic imaging, respiratory therapy and sonography. The college also buttresses those skill-based areas of study with a robust humanities department that helps the students contextualize working with the whole person as a patient.

The college has been ranked first in Ohio and No. 16 nationally for being a “value added” college by the Brookings Institute. The online program has been named as one of the Five Best Online Colleges in Ohio for the 2015-2016 academic year. Many departments have 100% job placement rates, and the college boasts an overall 90% pass rate on state and national licensure exams.

For those students and professionals studying at Kettering College, real world proficiency is developed in part through intensive simulations, most notably those held in the college’s new $2.7 million renovation of its Interprofessional Education Center, open in January just ahead of the needs posed by the pandemic. Practicing skills in a safe environment means Kettering Health professionals were ready to employ the most effective techniques to help their patients.

The center is designed to be “a gathering place for students, faculty and [professionals] from Kettering Health Network,” to learn and refresh their skills, says Kettering College President Nate Brandstater. The newly renovated simulation center includes 10 patient-care beds and supporting areas, allowing students to practice pediatric, obstetric, medical and surgical care in a setting highly similar to that they will be working in. A look around the simulation center shows patient beds, bays and equipment that duplicate what the students will be using in their actual practice. Mannequins can be controlled remotely and can be used to mimic patient responses.

The ability to hone one’s skills in these areas became apparent during the COVID-19 crisis, when hospital areas like pediatrics and obstetrics were closed to students. The simulation center allowed these students to keep learning safe and effective techniques. Additionally, the center is large enough to allow multiple groups of students or professionals to practice procedures simultaneously, which permitted a great deal of much-needed training. Some eight to 10 simulations can run concurrently. Additionally, a new MRI simulator obtained this summer gives an added dimension to practice through simulation.

The center “is not just for nursing students,” says Paula Reams, dean of nursing for Kettering College. She notes that practicing physicians, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants came in to practice intubation during the COVID-19 crisis, an important skill to execute in order to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus. Additionally, respiratory therapists and professionals from other health care disciplines used the center to practice skills.

The simulation center depends on a sophisticated technology infrastructure, Brandstater explains. Using wireless audio-visual control, faculty are able to control the responses of the practice mannequins and play the role of the patient, giving the students experience in handling actual patient issues and responses.

“Students need lots of hands-on experience, and [they get that] by engaging with the virtual experience,” Brandstater says. “There is a correspondence between the functionality of the virtual experience and [real world] practice,” he notes.

With these opportunities to engage in safe, simulated practice, graduates of Kettering College emerge feeling confident and prepared on their very first day on the job.

“Kettering College parallels Kettering Health Network and remains at the leading edge of technology and improvements in the field,” Brandstater says. “[We produce] competent professionals in technology and implementation.”

However, although Brandstater lauds the technological innovation behind the simulation center, technology is not the reason education at Kettering College stands out. Instead, both Brandstater and Reams note that the personal touch emphasized by KHN’s faith-based practice keeps “health care delivered by people, to people” at the front and center of their focus.

Training by simulation extends to disciplines that are not technologically dependent; psychology simulations are held in the new simulation center and religion instructors also hold simulations for the students. This focus on the entire person pervades both the health care and the educational training available through the Seventh-Day Adventist chartered network.

The improvements to the simulation center come as the college is also renovating some of its residential living facilities. These renovations began in late 2019 with improvements to rooms in the female residence hall, and they are expected to be completed by 2024 with improvements to the living quarters for male students.

All of the hands-on training via simulation has made Kettering College graduates in demand upon their graduation; often, the sites at which they are working as students will hire them upon their graduation.

“They are in the trenches working with other nurses; they tend to get jobs quickly in the network because they’re ready to roll as they graduate,” says Reams.

The recent COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the need for training that mirrors the real world. “With the pandemic, it is easy to become disconnected,” Brandstater says. “But now, we’re more connected than ever.”