Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Janie Reifenberg experiences the simulation lab

Janie Reifenberg of Honor Credit Union experienced the simulation lab at the Jan. 9, 2019, rededication

Professor Yolanda Roche debriefs nursing students

Professor Yolanda Roche debriefs some nursing students in the Karen K. Rose Simulation Lab

Dean Dr. Melissa Kennedy displays skills at Nursing Day

Dean Dr. Melissa Kennedy demonstrated some skills to high school students at Nursing Day

One of two skills labs

The expansion three years ago provided two skills labs

SMC’s Nursing and Health Education Building

SMC’s Nursing and Health Education Building

SMC's 2019 Nursing Building Ushered in New Era

Published on January 25, 2022 - 11 a.m.

Southwestern Michigan College’s $9.6-million Nursing and Health Education Building ushered in a new era for its flagship program three years ago.

Besides 117 Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree graduates pinned at six ceremonies preceding national licensure as registered nurses, allied fields are growing — Medical Assisting (AAS or certificate, 15), Health Information Technology (AAS, nine), Health Services (transfer degree, eight), certificate programs such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Phlebotomy, Fire Science, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technology and Neurodiagnostic (EEG) Technology (recording electrical activity in the brain and nervous system). MRI and EEG are offered partially online with clinicals in local health facilities in partnership with the Michigan Community College Association. MRI expects its first graduate in April.

In total, 149 graduates have been educated in the building to date.

Expansion of the 1970 nursing facility began in August 2017, attaching it to the David C. Briegel Building on the Dowagiac campus. Funding came from Michigan's $4 million contribution, SMC’s $4.5 million and donations that doubled the space to more than 29,000 square feet.

“The first major capital campaign this college has ever done, going out and asking the community for money, generated more than $1.1 million,” retired President Dr. David Mathews said at the Jan. 9, 2019, rededication. “The goal has been creating a facility matching the quality of the program. This is not a question of whether students get as good an experience working in simulation as with real patients. This is unquestionably a case where students get a better experience.”

Features include two eight-bed skills labs with low-fidelity manikins. The four-bed Karen K. Rose Simulation Lab replicates a hospital room with high-fidelity manikins which mimic situations, from listening to lungs to stopping postpartum hemorrhaging —crisis skills they can’t actually practice during clinicals, where they only observe emergencies.

“There is a pediatric simulation room with a baby in a crib that cries, turns cyanotic (blue discoloration) and has issues such as respiration, and Pediatric Hal, a little boy,” Nursing Chair Dr. Debra Green said.

When 74 students from five high schools visited Nursing Day Nov. 12, Green demonstrated Victoria. The robot had been in labor all night, growing increasingly cranky and uncomfortable as delivery approached.

Victoria startled visitors when her eyes flew open to announce, “My heart’s beating really fast. I feel faint.”

“Practicing without potentially harming actual patients,” Green said, “makes students feel more comfortable in real hospitals. I run everything Victoria does on a computer” from a glassed-in control room. “After each simulation, we debrief. I record this so they can watch, observe themselves and decide what they would do differently.”

“Low-fidelity manikins don’t do anything but lie there,” Dean of Nursing and Health Services Dr. Melissa Kennedy said. “Foundations students learn every single basic nursing skill on them, even brushing someone’s teeth, which is not the same as brushing your own. You do care and comfort every single day as a nurse, somewhat like Major League Baseball players still hit off tees constantly because it’s about muscle memory. We practice catheters over and over until that skill is perfected. The simulation lab puts them in real-life situations they need to know, even if they don’t see them every day on the floor. Debriefings are the most important part because they foster thinking.”

A benefit in a world now propelled by terse text messages is enhanced communication skills, Kennedy said. “When a manikin talks, they have no choice but to start communicating. Therapeutic communication has gotten better with recent graduates is feedback we’ve gotten from clinical partners.”

Kennedy graduated from the program in 2008, became a cardiac nurse, joined the faculty in 2011, taught medical-surgical and pharmacology courses and became dean in 2019 upon Rebecca Jellison’s retirement.

She’s “excited about Fire Science” being taught by Josh Jester from Mishawaka Fire Department as the program revamps to better fit needs expressed in advisory board meetings.

“Career firefighters need degrees to move up the ranks to chief, but can’t come sit in class because of their schedules,” Kennedy said. “We want to roll out Fire Science in two phases. Classes started in January, aimed at career firefighters or people from tech centers with Fire Science I or II.

“Ultimately,” she said, “we could get accredited, like we have in nursing, through the International Fire Academy. Phase two would offer Fire I and II for high school students and people who aren’t already firefighters. Mishawaka wants to partner with us to be the clinical setting twice a week, like nursing. (The Niles campus) could become the hiring hub for fire stations.” (Adviser) Malisa Roberts already fielded an inquiry from Kentucky.

“Students love this beautiful building,” Kennedy said. “They have so much pride. They have a better sense of community, like a family. They cherish that it’s theirs and brag about it. It’s their home for two years, so some feel separation anxiety when they leave. That’s what this building has done.”