Justin Pelham, clinical instructor in the School of Human Sciences instructing students in a simulated intensive care unit at SFA’s DeWitt School of Nursing.

As part of their training to be registered dietitians, students in Stephen F. Austin State University’s food, nutrition and dietetics program explored the nutrition provision process in a simulated intensive care unit at SFA’s DeWitt School of Nursing with help from Justin Pelham, clinical instructor in the School of Human Sciences. The simulation is designed to help them feel comfortable in a chaotic environment. Photo by Dr. Shirley Luna.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The chaos of an intensive care unit has been depicted in movies and TV shows for decades, and students in Stephen F. Austin State University’s School of Human Sciences got one step closer to experiencing the real thing in their medical nutrition therapy II course.

Designed to expose students to all the equipment they will encounter in a clinical environment for patient care, the course is held in a simulated ICU room at SFA’s DeWitt School of Nursing.

“This lesson is important for these future registered dietitians to integrate nutrition into the treatments they’ll encounter in the real world,” said Justin Pelham, clinical instructor of food and nutrition at SFA. “And I want them to feel comfortable in a chaotic environment.”

With the help of a mannequin that breathes and blinks, students reviewed the numerous tubes and cannisters that support a patient and present the greatest risk of infection if not handled correctly. From sodium chloride and lipid bags to total parenteral nutrition, or “steak and potato,” bags, the students explored intravenous feeding and hydrating.

“By attending the simulation, I feel more prepared for what I will be seeing and experiencing in the real world before I graduate,” said Paige Pierce, a nutrition senior from Sachse. “It is one thing to talk about TPN and calculate tube feeding in class, but to actually see TPN bags and the machine they are hooked up to helped enhance my understanding.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented special challenges for ensuring a patient’s nutrition needs are met.

Patients with COVID-19 generally require supplemental oxygen through breathing treatments and the use of oxygen masks and nasal cannulas, Pelham said.

“At this point, patients can still eat and digest their food. The food may need mechanical softening — chopping or pureeing in a blender — but the patients can still eat it,” he said. “Once they’re on a ventilator, though, there’s no room to feed them by mouth anymore. Nutrition has to be implemented via the gastrointestinal tract or intravenously as a last resort.”

Students in the course also examine the nutrition care process for other conditions, including cancer, diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus, liver disease and renal disease. This visual application of the simulation helps students see how to integrate the clinical equipment, roles of the interdisciplinary health team and the necessity for proactive nutrition interventions for these conditions.

“We want our dietetic students feeling confident at the next stage in their clinical rotations of their dietetic internship,” Pelham said.

For more information on SFA’s food, nutrition and dietetics program, visit sfasu.edu/nutrition.