Dedicated Educational Units

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For decades, clinical education in nursing meant professional nurses performed real-time patient care while student nurses observed. Today, traditional clinical training is being replaced with the dedicated educational unit (DEU) format to provide comprehensive nurse education that accommodates the needs of professional nurses and the students they teach.

Doctor and nurse having conversation

What is a Dedicated Educational Unit?

The DEU model for clinical nurse education pairs professional nurses, acting as nurse educators, with advanced-level nursing students. Experts say the academic-practice partnership has been successful for educators and students. The model allows staff nurses to expand their roles, develop mentoring and coaching skills while encouraging transformational changes for the future of nurse education.

“The expert clinical nurse at the bedside is the premier faculty to guide the young practitioner in the care of the patient,” nurses Judith Wendt and Bonnie J. Russell, of the VA Boston Healthcare System, said.

The DEU model comes at a time when nurse education needs its biggest boost.  Healthcare leaders, lawmakers, and patient advocates have called for an increase in baccalaureate-trained nurses, but faculty shortages at nursing schools nationwide have hampered the efforts. Since the DEU model was unveiled decades ago, it has provided support for future clinical educators worldwide.

The DEU Collaborative Educational Model

The DEU model was first unveiled in 1997 at Flinders University in Australia in response to a call for innovative teaching methods that would create a stronger framework for nurse education. A study at the university found the DEU format addressed “students’ concerns about inadequate duration of clinical and lack of opportunity for learning through repetition.” For the clinical instructors, the model established a collaborative work atmosphere grounded in trust and respect, the study, “Dedicated Education Units:1, A New Concept for Clinical Teaching and Learning,” found. Subsequent studies have found DEU models increase the quality of patient care and create positive learning environments.

When major healthcare advocacy organizations such as the Institute of Medicine (IoM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began calling for changes to nursing education and clinical practice, educators turned to the DEU model. Nurse advocacy groups say there are differences between traditional nursing training and the DEU model that make the latter a better choice.

Traditional Clinical Training vs. DEU Modeling

Traditionally, student nurses begin clinical training in the first or second semester of nursing school after learning about nursing concepts, fundamentals, and practice procedures. Students are rotated through units in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities for a variety of experiences. Typically, students are required to visit the facility before each clinical rotation to receive patient assignments. Key elements to clinical rotations include the following:

  • The night before the clinical rotation, student nurses must research their patient’s medical history and write a care plan that addresses the patient’s current and future needs.
  • Upon arriving at the clinical rotation, student nurses are assigned to nurse preceptors who oversee the patient care.
  • During the shift, student nurses work alongside or shadow the nurse preceptors or clinical instructors. Sometimes multiple student nurses spend entire shifts observing a single nurse preceptor.
  • Some student nurses are required to finish care plans during clinical rotations, cutting into the time for practical experience.

In comparison, student nurses in a DEU program are assigned to a single care unit and work side-by-side with the nursing staff and clinical faculty, with a focus on peer teaching, education collaboration, and improved clinical outcomes for students. While the DEU format varies by facility and education program, it sometimes involves student nurses being paired with the same clinical instructor during the entire school semester. Unlike the traditional model of clinical nursing education, clinical instructors in DEU programs volunteer and are educated for the role. Student nurses are still expected to undertake the same amount of preparation for clinical rotations, but the relationship with the clinical instructor is intended to be more informative and personalized.

Overall, the main goals of the DEU format include the following:

  • Boost collaboration between nursing schools and working professionals.
  • Encourage student nurses to apply classroom theories to real-world practice with professional nurses as guides.
  • Immerse student nurses in the world of professional nursing by forming individualized relationships
  • Include working professionals as stakeholders for the future of nursing
  • Promote the growth of professional nurses to the role of educator
  • Strengthen staff morale and confidence

The Future of the DEU Format for Clinical Instructors

Proponents of the DEU model say it has the potential to vastly improve nurse education by restructuring traditional learning methods. Experienced nurses, working as clinical instructors, train the next generation of nurses.

“These efforts will have an important impact on nursing clinical education and the potential to reduce the clinical faculty shortage,” nurses Wendt and Russell said in their whitepaper, “Dedicated Educational Nursing Units: Clinical Instructors Role Perceptions and Learning Needs.”

With an estimated 500,000 registered nurses expected to retire by 2022 and the growing senior citizen population, the need for nurse educators has never been greater. The DEU model of nurse education allows advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to take a leading role in the future of nursing.

Duquesne University’s Online Nursing Education and Faculty Role Certificate

APRNs who have already earned a master’s or doctoral degree are positioned to take on the role of educator through Duquesne University’s online Nursing Educator and Faculty Role Certificate Program. The program is intended to promote leadership, collaboration, and culturally competent practices in nurse education. The certificate prepares students to take on roles in both traditional and DEU education programs and teach across many disciplines. For more information, contact Duquesne University today.