May 9, 2012

Calculators in Clinical? I sure hope so.

Recently I heard about a nursing clinical faculty member who refuses to let students use a calculator in the clinical setting. I was stunned. Not knowing the rationale for this policy I will speculate that teacher thinks using a calculator will somehow soften students' thinking, or make them reliant on a machine that may not be available. Neither of these rationales have much merit.

Clinical education needs to focus on teaching students how to solve clinical problems. The overriding educational principle should be on how nurses would solve those problems and teach students that process. I cannot imagine a nurse refusing to use a calculator to check a dosage or other calculation.

We need to keep focusing on what skills students really need to function clinically. Calculators are ubiquitous. Even the NCLEX-RN exam has a pop-up calculator. Scenarios of blackouts or no calculators on a unit are too farfetched for faculty to be worrying about in our limited time with students.

This principle needs to be applied to all of our faculty decisions. Ask yourself if your methods of teaching or your assignments are helping students to make good clinical decisions? If are they vestiges of teaching the way your were taught, or an attempt to "toughen them up" then please let me know why they are still used?


Rosalinda Alfaro-LeFevre, RN, MSN, ANEF said...

I sure don't want nurses calculating my meds based on what goes on in their heads alone. Who would trust financial information based on brain-completed math?? I have studied this issue for quite a while. I started a study in collaboration with 2 FL mathematicians in 2004. We didn't get too far before getting derailed by 3 hurricanes (and my getting a comminuted leg fracture after the first one). One thing that did come out is that nurses must have IN THERE HEADS an understanding of decimal points. This was supported by an issue in the NICU: They found that smart infusion pumps were alarming a lot (and quickly corrected). They printed out the log from the smart pump and found that the alarms were going off because of errors in decimal point entries. They pulled the staff off the unit and made sure all had a good understanding of decimal points. The alarms stopped. What I like to teach is to remember the use it or lose it priniciple. If you have time, you can do calculations by hand. But ALWAYS check with a calculator. If you really want to be sharp do as much as you can BOTH ways.

Unknown said...

Agreed! I expect my students to be able to set up the formula for their calculation, but they should absolutely check their math with a calculator!

Anonymous said...

I also have to agree that students need their calculators to check their math. My concern is when students don't double check calculations of medications by other individuals. Our students should be taught that they need to check every medication because pharmacists are only human.

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