NORMAL — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin expects an increasing demand for nurse practitioners and discussed the difficulty in meeting that demand with administrators Tuesday at Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing.

Noting that major drug stores, such as Walgreens, are adding “mini clinics” staffed by nurse practitioners, the Springfield Democrat said. “That strikes me as a sign of where the demand will be.”

Part of the challenge in meeting that demand for nurses is having the faculty to teach the students — from the bachelor’s degree to the doctoral level.

Caroline Mallory, associate dean for research at Mennonite, said the difference in pay between a nurse practitioner and a professor is a “serious barrier to recruiting” faculty. She said a person can earn 50 percent more as a nurse practitioner in an urban area than as a faculty member in Central Illinois.

Dean Janet Krejci said the school has been developing partnerships, “but I don’t think we’ve come up with a solution, Senator.”

Tuesday’s visit was an opportunity for the Senate’s assistant majority leader to learn more about ISU’s nursing program and its high-tech simulation lab, used to train students.

Krejci’s own heart may have skipped a beat when Durbin heard nothing when he put a stethoscope to the chest of a manikin used to train nursing students.

As Durbin asked the manikin “What do you know about Obamacare?” and put the stethoscope on his own heart, the glitch was quickly fixed and the manikin was brought back to life.

The new computer simulators and lifelike manikins are a vast improvement over the days when students practiced giving injections to each other or with oranges or less realistic models, Krejci said.

Students said the practice also makes them feel more at ease when they move on to treating actual patients.

“The more we can simulate, the more we can avoid errors,” Krejci said.

In a part of the lab simulating a hospital setting, students go through a variety of steps, including calling a “doctor.” Krejci said sometimes the person portraying the doctor yells at the student so they can learn how to respond to that and continue to be an advocate for the patient.

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