‘Making it real’ with Dr. Karen Daley
By Irene Sherlock

Dr. Karen Daley

When creating a wish list, Associate Professor of Nursing Dr. Karen Daley believes in thinking big. However, she does caution to prioritize one’s dreams. Start with what’s practical and doable, she suggests. That’s what she did when she got to WestConn.

“I took one look at the nursing facilities and thought, what can I do to improve things for the department and for our students?”

She’s referring to what was then the humble state of the nursing lab, which in 2001 hadn’t been updated in many years. “The mannequins had been around so long they were featured in our archive photography,” she says.

With the support of Chief Information Officer Lorraine Capobianco, the department received new equipment and updated technology. “We implemented human patient simulation (HPS) into the lab and the curriculum. Today’s students respond to knowledge delivered through a digital medium.”

Daley is referring to “SimMan,” the latest in state-of-the- art medical simulators designed to teach critical thinking and decision-making skills to health care providers. “Students love it because it incorporates technology and it’s interactive,” she says. “Nurses have to make split-second decisions on the job. HPS allows students to learn, make mistakes, re-think and re-do things. This kind of problem-solving builds not only competence, but also confidence.”

Not only is Daley primarily responsible for the acquisition of SimMan technology, she also spearheaded the expansion, development and upgrade of resources for the nursing labs and the Nursing Resource Center. As chair of the Learning Resources Committee, she lobbied for new lab space in Higgins Hall and for an additional SimMan Lab and Assessment Lab, as well as a technology classroom and a pediatrics/obstetrics area with additional equipment. An intensive care unit simulation lab was added in 2007.

“In terms of t echnology , we’re in much, much better shape than we were years ago. But the field is always changing, growing. We’ll need to expand and update in order to stay competitive.”

Daley has co-authored a book on her HPS experience at WestConn. “Simulation Scenarios for Nurse Educators: Making it Real,” is a step-by-step guide to developing, incorporating and integrating simulated scenarios into nursing curricula. The book is c o-authored by Suzanne Hertzel Campbell, a colleague from Fairfield University, and the two currently are at work on a second edition.

“I love all aspects of what I’m doing,” says Daley. “I particularly love teaching Clinical Nursing Practice II, where students finally understand how much there is to learn in order to be effective.”

In addition to her teaching and clinical duties, Daley acts as thesis adviser and as the Master of Science in Nursing program’s coordinator.

Like other members of the department, Daley works one day a week as a nurse. Her part-time position is at Bayada Nurses, a home care agency in Norwalk Conn. “I love it. I get to be Karen the nurse, as opposed to Dr. Daley the professor. I get to take care of patients one at a time. It reminds me why I went into the health care field in the first place.”

At a child, Daley was hospitalized several times with asthma and pneumonia. “I remember the doctors who stood at the foot of the bed, explaining things. But it was the nurses who reached inside my oxygen tent to comfort me.”

Daley’s father, a medical doctor himself, assumed his daughter would follow in his medical footsteps. But Daley had her sights set on being a nurse. “Though eventually I got my Ph.D., which of course made him happy.”

Daley earned a B.S in Nursing from Villanova University, an M.S. in Nursing from Troy State University and a Ph.D. in Nursing from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Since Daley began co-teaching Nursing Practicum, the capstone course of the undergraduate program, the pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) has been steadily on the rise.

“Karen has very high academic standards,” says Assistant Professor of Nursing Robin Goodrich, who co-teaches this course with Daley. “She’s flexible and creative and willing to be innovative if it’ll help students. She’s aware of current issues in nursing practice and education and is always thinking of ways to better improve the curriculum. As an educator, she’s the absolute best there is.”

Daley’s classroom has sometimes extended beyond the WCSU campus. In 2006, she led a group of seniors on a trip to the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to observe the care of wounded soldiers. There students learned about flight physiology, did a clinical rotation at Landstuhl Medical Center and were able to board planes as they arrived from Iraq, and soldiers were prepared soldiers to return to the U.S. 

Back home that year, she co-founded the Nursing Alumni Society with former student Monica Perry ’06, and continues to this day to reach out and develop society membership. “It’s very important to stay connected to your peers and support the new people coming in. Also, it’s a great way to network and see what others are doing in the field. You get inspired to do more.”
Her future plans? She’ll keep encouraging more ideas on ways to integrate simulation into the nursing curriculum, Daley says. She’ll continue training faculty in simulation-focused learning experiences, and developing the ICU simulation Nursing Lab. And  she’ll keep up with the grant writing she does, which, so far has netted the department $350,000 to fund these and other projects.
With the assistance of WestConn Provost Dr. Linda Rinker, Daley and her nursing colleagues twice applied for, and received, federally funded Nursing Initiative Grants. The most recent award allowed the department to grant scholarships to qualified nursing students in the graduate program.

“These grad assistants act as mentors to undergraduates and help them through this daunting academic process,” Daley says. “We’ve already seen an improvement in student retention because of this initiative.”

Daley says that for her, the key to teaching involves the ability to evaluate a student’s strengths and weaknesses. “I have to know what they need in order to know what to do for them.”

In May, as she was preparing remarks for the graduating nurses’ pinning ceremony, she reflected on her experience as an educator. “We’re dealing with people — patients — when they’re at their most vulnerable. My job is to help students understand the enormous responsibility they have. Yes, I set the bar high, but it has to be. People’s lives are at stake.”

“You can only teach nursing by exemplifying caring,” says Professor of Nursing Dr. Laurel Halloran. “As a clinician, Karen teaches students how to become the nurses you want at your bedside.”
Daley’s student s know that in order to become a registered nurse, they must not only pass the NCLEX, but must satisfy what’s known as Daley’s “stretcher test.”

“I ask students, if I were to come in on a stretcher, would I be comfortable and confident with them as my nurse.” She smiles. “It takes a long time before they answer yes and that’s a good thing. We want them to understand exactly what’s at stake.”

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