Joanna Willett, director of the Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) Nursing Simulation Lab was a featured guest for MCN’s new podcast, MCN On Air. She sat down with podcast host, Noah Schlosser, on September 14, 2021, and shared her perspective on the unique experience offered to students in our lab.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation, highlighting Sim Lab features and explaining how this training translates to better preparation for MCN students. We invite you to listen to the second episode of MCN On Air in its entirety.

Full Episode

Transcript Excerpt

Let’s talk about the Nursing Simulation Lab, which in and of itself is a really cool title. It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie! “The Simulation Lab.” What do nursing students do here? 

Well, there’s several things. The obvious answer to that is simulation, right? But there are varying levels of simulation. So, for instance, our nursing fundamentals course, which we call “Skills,” it’s a fundamental course where they learn all of their skills. And so, that has components of simulation in it, but it’s super low-fidelity, you know. Like, I don’t actually care how the mannequin looks, that I poke in the arm. I just need an arm that bleeds when I poke it, so we do some low-fidelity simulation in that class. So, that’s going on all the time, that fundamentals course. And then, we also have their first assessment course, so, that lab where they learn how to assess a patient, how to use their stethoscope, how to get their hands on a belly, and know what, when they press here, what they’re pressing on. So, that’s going on all the time. And then kind of, as I mentioned before, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we’re running high-fidelity simulations with our clinical course groups. And then, new this fall, super exciting, is virtual reality simulations, so that’s awesome! That’s a new component that we’re really, really excited about, doing high-fidelity simulations in a completely 3D immersive manner, and just giving getting those extra clinical experiences in for students when they might not otherwise have that opportunity. So, that is something we’re kicking off and super excited about. 

Yeah, that is super amazing. I was in here I think about a week ago, and I got to try on the headset, and that just blew my mind. I can only imagine the possibilities when applying that to nursing and the medical field. 

Absolutely, yep, absolutely. The students are responding really well to it so far. It’s a little surreal when you first put that headset on. You’re like, “OK, I’m now in a patient room!” And so, it’s a little surreal, but give them two minutes with the headsets on and then they’re like, “OK, let’s get this person oxygen. Let’s do this, this, and this. …” and then they’re the nurse, and now they have this really intentional experience that they, like I said, would have never otherwise got. For example, probably the most relevant example that I think everybody can relate with is, none of our nursing students are allowed into, let alone participate in, the care of a COVID-19 patient for obvious safety reasons, right? But, they need that. That’s what they’re going to be exposed to when they leave here. So, we have a COVID-19 virtual reality patient that looks awful when you first get in the room. Like, he is really not in a good way. And then they intervene, and he improves. And so, they kind of see how that goes. But they’re safe, the patient safe, it’s an all-around win. 

You talked about low-fidelity, high-fidelity, and now virtual reality. Can you explain the difference between the low-fidelity and the high-fidelity? For those who don’t know? 

Sure, sure, so low-fidelity really just means that the level of faithfulness to real life is low. For instance, if I wanted to teach a student, say, how to give an IM injection, an intramuscular injection, I really just need a pad that feels like a muscle the student can puncture with a real needle, but I don’t necessarily need all of the extra, all of the … the realistic environment, the moulage that makes the patient look real. I don’t need all of these extra components that allow them to feel like they’re actually administering or intervening or being the nurse for a patient. They’re just practicing a skill. So, that’s kind of low-fidelity.  

High-fidelity, conversely, is just the opposite of that. In a high-fidelity sim, you want everything to be as true to real life as possible. So, in our hospital, which is a four-unit hospital, it’s fully function, the student nurses walk in, and they’re in a hospital, you know, and the call lights work, and all the bells and whistles work. The meds, they’re actually giving, the mannequins aren’t always mannequins. They’re sometimes real humans that are talking and walking and doing all the things that normal humans would do in that situation, so we’re really trying to achieve a clinical experience for them in a high-fidelity situation so that they can learn, so that they can add that to their repertoire very purposefully, their clinical repertoires. So, that’s kind of high-fidelity.  

And then virtual reality is kind of … it is a high-fidelity experience. I mean, when you put those goggles on, you can do things in virtual reality that just aren’t possible in the Sim Lab. For instance, that COVID-19 patient. That man is blue, he sweats, like, he is grossly in respiratory distress. I mean, you walk in the room, you’re like, “Wow, that guy can’t breathe.” So, there are levels that are possible in virtual reality that just are really hard to duplicate in the real world there in the clinical simulation lab, physically. 

Yeah, so everything that you’re doing in here is as close to real life as possible without actually going into that real-life scenario. 

Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Our whole goal is to give students experience. And not just the experience where they might have not learned anything from it, but to have the chance to apply their nursing theory knowledge, to apply it and then to analyze. Everything that we do is analyzed in here. So, it’s not just about giving them these extra opportunities where they can’t actually hurt anybody. But, like, that would be a wasteful day, really, if they didn’t learn from what they just did. So, the debrief component that we emphasize here in the lab, it’s across the curriculum at Mennonite. We want them to be able to self-analyze. What did I do? What would I do if I could do a similar situation again differently? So that analysis component is essential to really get them at that level where the next time that, clinically, they show up into a similar situation, like, wow. Now they’re really, totally functional, able to nail that encounter safely in the real world. 

“Our whole goal is to give students experience … to have the chance to apply their nursing theory knowledge, to apply it and then to analyze. That analysis component is essential to really get them at that level where the next time that, clinically, they show up into a similar situation, like, wow. Now they’re really, totally functional, able to nail that encounter safely in the real world.”

Director Joanna Willett

So, I gotta ask. Being in the Sim Lab, what’s your favorite part of your job? 

I love seeing the students’ reactions. I love watching that epiphany, light-bulb moment when all of a sudden, they just get it. I love watching the transformation from week one, day one, when they come in here and they’re so scared, they’re so scared about everything, and, you know, they’re trying to figure out how to put their stethoscope in their ears the right way, to the day they walk out the door, and you know, like, I, with confidence, know that these students are going to be safe nurses. That is everything. That’s the most beautiful thing in the world to watch. 

You’re watching all these nursing students come into the Nursing Simulation Lab, and you eventually want them to leave with this knowledge and this experience under their belts. What advice do you have for those students who are currently in the program? 

For the students that are currently in the program, I would just say, take a breath, hang in there. Try to self-care, which I know sounds really hard to do, but, you know, they’re moving into a profession where self-care and all of that is essential. It’s just essential. So, I would say, take care of yourself. And, take advantage. I so often just suspect that, as every other human in the world, we’re just so unaware of kind of how good we’ve got it. And I can tell you that the education that’s available here, and the opportunities that are available here, these are top-of-the-line, so taking advantage, and really just going all in, especially when you’re in the lab, just all in with me. Give us that fiction contract buy-in with us so we can build that that experience for you. 

“I love seeing the students’ reactions. I love watching that epiphany, light-bulb moment when all of a sudden, they just get it. … That is everything. That’s the most beautiful thing in the world to watch.”

Director Joanna Willett

Let’s talk to the students who might be going into nursing, who’re still thinking about it or are still a few years down the line from coming to an institution like ISU. Why should they consider nursing school, and why should they consider MCN? 

Obviously, you know, as a nurse I would say, of course you want to consider nursing! It’s just such a gratifying occupation, in general. There’s just so much opportunity to do good and to make a difference, but even more than that, I mean, you could talk about job security. You could talk about any number of reasons to go into nursing. And so, I would say if you’re thinking about it, talk to an academic advisor and just kind of explore. Definitely be aware that if you’re going into it to help people, that you are going to need to learn some moral injury techniques. Because a lot of times, the folks that are the most empathetic often really struggle with that kind of reality of like, “Holy cow, there’s so much need, and there’s so much that I can’t do for everyone there, I can’t do it right away like I would like to.” So, you know, just self-explore. If you’re curious about nursing, explore yourself. Explore your motivations behind why you’re doing what you’re doing, and whatever those things are, just be aware that you could talk to academic advisors about it, or family that’s in nursing. 

And, specifically why MCN … I would say, wherever you go, they should be doing simulation at our level or higher. If I were a student visiting college campuses and I’m exploring nursing, I would want to know exactly what they do in their Sim Lab, how often it’s used, what standards do they follow, you know? ‘Cause … everybody’s got a mannequin. 


(Laughs) That’s not simulation. Well, it can be. But you need to know that they’re really striving to meet some standards, so whether it’s accreditation, there’s some centers accredited, or whether after a conversation with them, you can establish that they’re really trying to meet those standards. I would say look for that, ’cause it’s not just about simulation. If your nursing school is pursuing that, then you can be reasonably assured that they’re pursuing excellence and innovation in the rest of their curriculum. 

The purpose of this podcast is to inform, it’s to motivate, and it’s to inspire. So before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Let’s see … inform, motivate, and inspire. Well, you could definitely check out Mennonite’s website. There’s a lot of information on there that could probably give you a good amount of extra details that we didn’t really talk about today. And I would just say, motivationally, if you’re in this program and you’re hearing this, hang in there. We’re so proud of you, you’re doing a great job! There is no other student in the history of the world who has been through what our students have been through in the last year and a half to almost two years now, and they’re doing it with grace and success. 

You know, Noah, just this morning I was listening to some senior nursing students, who were here for their sim day, talking to some junior nursing students. And the juniors, very wisely, asked the seniors, “What do I need to do to be successful here?” And, I tell you what, these seniors spit back the most beautiful, honest … you know, “take time for yourself, make sure you take advantage of your resources, study hard, but also relax and enjoy your family. …” Like, it was the most beautiful expression of one group sharing their knowledge and success with another, it was amazing. And, it just really marked the quality of the people that are in this program.

You can learn more about the Nursing Simulation Lab at