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HealthDecember 01, 2021

Encouraging situational awareness in nursing students

By: Heather Swift, MSN, RN
Situational awareness among the nursing community means anticipating needs. This can be a client’s need, a co-worker’s need, or even your own need. It can easily be defined as knowing what is going on, why it is occurring, and what is likely to happen next.

A great example of situational awareness is a nurse checking on their co-worker’s clients while the co-worker is with a deteriorating patient. The nurse knows her co-worker will fall behind in their tasks, assessments, and hourly rounding so steps in to help.

It’s important that today’s nurses have a strong sense of situational awareness, but how can we as nurse educators help them achieve those skills? The answer is building situational awareness into the nursing curriculum from the start in all clinical areas and by asking the tough questions.

Seven situational awareness activities with nursing students

Here are several situational awareness activities you can work through with your own students:

  1. Ask students to list the anticipated needs for their assigned client
  2. Ask students to describe the worst-case scenario they would need to anticipate for their client
  3. Further, ask what they are going to do if that worst-case scenario happens?
  4. Ask what vital signs are most important and why?
  5. Ask what lab values are most important to monitor and why?
  6. Ask about perfusion: is it adequate?
  7. Ask about nursing priorities (these are not nursing diagnoses’)

Work through students’ responses and guide them on what they did right and where improvements can be made. These are good questions to ask throughout various points of the curriculum too, as every situation will be different and require them to a multitude of different “what ifs”.

A student’s ability to become situationally aware is more than achievable if we, as professors, put them in the situations to allow them to learn, act, and ask questions in a controlled environment.

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Heather Swift, MSN, RN
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
Lippincott DocuCare
The leading educational EHR training solution guaranteed to prepare students for the clinical demands of practice.
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