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Dr. Sunny Hallowell Releases Neonatal Intensive Care Virtual Gaming Simulation

2021 Macy Faculty Scholar and Harvard Macy Scholar Dr. Hallowell creates game-based virtual learning environments to advance nursing education 

Dr. Sunny Hallowell

Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing (FCN) Associate Professor Sunny Hallowell, PhD, APRN, PPCNP-BC, a pediatric nurse practitioner and an expert in breastfeeding and neonatal ICU (NICU) nursing, has developed the Neonatal Intensive Care Virtual Simulation Game, the first of several such games she hopes to develop as a 2021 Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation Scholar. Dr. Hallowell, whose work was funded by both the Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing Research Development Grant and The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, focuses on simulating a clinical experience using a health equity framework that promotes undergraduate students’ application of knowledge, clinical reasoning and communication skills.

For her project, Inclusive Clinical Advocacy - Responsible Education (ICARE-VGS), Dr. Hallowell explains, “The goals are to empower students to be clinical change agents and problem solvers, facile at approaching patient care using a health equity lens, in order to improve patient outcomes for the diverse communities of children and families we serve.”

A combination of frameworks was utilized by Dr. Hallowell, including the Tanner Model, Jeffries, and Kolb Learning theories, to provide socioemotionally safe opportunities for students to learn from the decisions they make within each game.

Dr. Hallowell was supported by her two mentors - FCN’s Professor Elizabeth Burgess Dowdell, PhD, RN, AFN-C, FAAN, an expert in child safety behaviors in children and adolescents, and Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing’s Professor Emerita, Christine Tanner, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, a Macy National Foundation Scholar Mentor and a national leader in nursing education innovation and scholarship.  

Dr. Sunny Hallowell in simulation lab with actress and neonatal ICU equipment and infant manikin
While an actor stands by, Dr. Sunny Hallowell checks equipment in a simulation lab before filming begins for her clinical gaming scenario.

For educators, Dr. Hallowell explains that the NICU Virtual Gaming Simulation resource is best incorporated after learners have completed learning content regarding postpartum care of the newborn and mother. She notes that, “The resource can support learners’ knowledge and skill performance related to ISBAR (Introduction, Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation) handoff report, communication, medication administration, breastfeeding, transient tachypnea of the newborn, and trauma-informed care,” acknowledging that individual institutional practices may vary according to institution guidelines.

As outlined in the game, the learning objectives in simulation involve evidence-based assessment, therapeutic communication skills related to diversity, equity, and belonging in family-centered care, correct IV drug calculations, prioritization of care, including that related to breastfeeding.

In addition to the NICU game, Dr. Hallowell has been recognized for her innovative mixed-methods approach to reduce medication administration errors using a game-based, immersive virtual reality simulation and her pioneering work with nursing students in the design of virtual gaming simulations has created clinical learning environments rooted in science and social justice.

The Macy Foundation Faculty Scholars Program aims to accelerate needed reforms in health professions education to accommodate the dramatic changes occurring in healthcare practice and delivery. Each Macy Foundation Faculty Scholar engages in activities to enhance their career as an educator and pursues a mentored educational innovation project at their home institution.

Health care colleagues and the public are welcome to read, play and provide feedback for the NICU game developed by Dr. Hallowell at .