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College of Nursing impacting care for patients with disabilities


Villanova University College of Nursing faculty, in conjunction with national experts and people with disabilities, have developed an educational tool kit to address the national gap in curricular content for teaching care for patients with disabilities. This project, the end result of a three-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), incorporated significant content about people with disabilities across the lifespan into Nurse Practitioner (NP) curricula with the goal of improving the skills and knowledge of NP students across the country.

Disability affects one in every five people in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, but there is a strong and growing body of empirical evidence that indicates people with disabilities receive primary health care less often and care of poorer quality than that provided to people without disabilities.

In higher education, nursing faculty nationwide most commonly report textbooks as the major teaching tool for addressing care for patients with disabilities – not interaction with, or work alongside people with disabilities. To add to that, the majority of textbooks used in nursing education either do not specifically address the topic, or do not address it in a comprehensive way. This is a disturbing trend since it is estimated that there are 60 million or more individuals across all age groups in the U.S. who have a disability.

One major hurdle in the development of this curricula content was the realization that no standardized competencies existed for NPs, or for registered nurses (RNs), caring for people with disabilities.  Therefore, a major focus of the project was to develop a set of competencies for NPs caring for these patients.  Additionally, a parallel set of competencies for RNs caring for people with disabilities was also developed.  

A focal point of the work was the integration of standardized patients (SPs) with disabilities into the NP curricula. This has provided interactions and subsequent case developments to increase students’ expertise and ability in caring for patients with disabilities. People with disabilities trained as SPs are now part of the College’s regular simulation lab scenarios, and all NP students are required to have at least one clinical experience working with people with disabilities.

The College of Nursing recently completed its Educational Tool Kit, the only disability nursing curricula tool of its kind, which includes a set of competencies, case studies and video content. This tool kit has been disseminated to the nearly 400 NP programs across the country, with the aim of affecting change in the teaching, learning, and subsequent care for patients with disabilities nationally.

In addition to Villanova’s NP Program, the College of Nursing has also incorporated simulation with standardized patients with disabilities into the undergraduate curriculum. A module on communication introduces students, in early nursing courses, to strategies to communicate effectively and appropriately with people with disabilities (PWDs). Nursing students, who have completed the module, participate in scenarios with PWDs trained as standardized patients. The simulated scenarios are videotaped and used for teaching and testing. In addition to faculty, the SPs provide feedback to the students.