|Dr. Pat Kyriakidis, right, leads a discussion about sepsis during an Innov8 class at Pope John Paul II High School with students Reanna McNair and Brenda Hernandez on Jan. 18. McNair used the concepts that she learned in the class to help diagnose a case of sepsis in a close family member. Photo by Rick Musacchio|
Pope John Paul II High School junior Reanna McNair was hoping to explore nursing as a potential career choice when she signed up for a class and internship that is part of the school’s Innov8 program. She never would have guessed that what she learned in the class would help save the life of a close relative.
McNair and two other students signed up for the NovEx Novice to Expert Learning class offered through the school’s Innov8 program, which is designed to allow students to explore topics they are passionate about or interested in pursuing in college or as a career.
NovEx is an e-learning course designed for students in college nursing programs and as continued training for nurses already working in hospitals, said Dr. Patricia Kyriakidis, R.N., Ph.D., who teaches the Innov8 class and developed NovEx.
In the course, students study cases and then use a virtual simulation where, “in unprompted situation they have to figure out what’s going on with the patient and figure out what the patient needs,” Kyriakidis explained.
Kyriakidis has tested the program in several colleges and hospitals with excellent results, but she wanted to try it with high school students with no previous background in health care.
During the current term of the Innov8 program, Kyriakidis is teaching a course on recognizing and treating sepsis, one of 93 courses she’s developed. She picked the sepsis course, “because sepsis is the major killer in hospitals today,” and often goes unrecognized, Kyriakidis said.
“Sepsis is an abnormal immune response to an infection,” Kyriakidis said. “Once in a while people develop a complete body response and it gets out of hand and it will damage all sorts of organs in the body. It almost always starts with an infection of some sort.”
The condition can be deadly. According to several scientific studies, sepsis kills millions around the world each year and is the most common cause of death in people who have been hospitalized.
Kyriakidis said her students at JPII were doing well in the class, but she didn’t expect such dramatic results after just nine hours of classroom instruction.
McNair had a family member who had suffered a broken leg that required surgery to repair, she said. The relative developed an infection that sent them back into the hospital.
McNair and her parents, Lee and Sarah, were visiting the hospital because the relative’s lungs were filling with fluids and the possibility of heart failure was looming.
While McNair’s father was in the hallway talking to the doctors, she was looking at the monitors. “It made me think of what we were studying in class,” McNair said.
Her relative was already showing several signs of sepsis, so McNair texted a friend from the class to talk about what she was seeing.
“I was in no authority to say anything” to the nurses or doctors, so McNair told her father she was seeing evidence of sepsis. Her father dismissed her suggestion and told to go sit down, leaving the case to the health care professionals.
Instead of minding her own business, “I rechecked everything,” McNair said. Her father was out of the room when a nurse came in. McNair told the nurse she thought her relative had developed sepsis and asked what the lactate level was. Lactate levels can be an indicator of sepsis, McNair said. The nurse at first looked confused, McNair said, but eventually, McNair’s diagnosis proved correct and her relative was successfully treated.
“My dad was so shocked,” and he felt bad about rebuffing her earlier, McNair said.
“When I walked into the room after Christmas break, she jumped up in the air,” Kyriakidis said of McNair. “‘You’ll never guess what. I diagnosed a family member with sepsis,’” McNair told her teacher.
“This is a high schooler who would be situated six years prior to the graduation of a nurse,” Kyriakidis said. “It’s stunning. I’ve talked with several professors I’ve worked with and their jaws dropped.”
“She said it was like walking into a NovEx simulation,” Kyriakidis said of McNair.
The student’s actions have bolstered Kyriakidis’ confidence in the NovEx approach. “We’re pretty sure that this way of teaching, getting the students to use the knowledge in simulated cases, is going to improve education tremendously,” she said.
The NovEx class has proved to be a good fit for the Innov8 program at JPII, which was instituted this year. Through the program, students can explore topics they are passionate about or are interested in pursuing in college or as a career. The program offers courses and internships in subjects such as robotics, documentary filmmaking, non-profit management, sports medicine, digital storytelling and animation, sustainable energy, and others.
Students can take up to three 12-week Innov8 courses through the school year. The classes, which meet during the last period of the day on Wednesdays and Fridays, are graded on a criteria basis and each require students to complete a project. The classes are homework-light or homework-free to lighten students’ workload outside the classroom and provide more balance in their lives, said Jennifer Dye, chair of the JPII science department and the school’s director of innovation.
The school’s athletic teams use the Innov8 classes for practices so the participating students can get home at a more reasonable hour. It also gives student athletes – like McNair, the starting goalie on the JPII girls lacrosse team – more opportunities to pursue other interests, Dye said. “Here you can be an athlete and a nurse, or a lawyer, or learn computer coding.”
McNair’s experience with her Innov8 class has increased her interest in becoming a nurse and her appreciation of what a nurse does. “I didn’t think nurses had as much of an impact as they actually do,” McNair said, noting that it’s nurses who have the most contact with the patients and deliver their care.
In its first year, the Innov8 program is growing, Dye said. She started with six off-campus internships through the program, but through the year more people and companies have volunteered to take on a JPII student as an intern, Dye said. In the spring, the program will offer 15 internships.
McNair’s experience was more than Dye could have expected when JPII launched the program in the fall. “My hope would have been it would have an impact on the students. This was so far beyond that because it impacted a life,” Dye said. “It far exceeded the impact I expected as a result of our program.”