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March 2011, Volume 41 Number 3 , p 17 - 18


  • Tina Heinz MS/MPA, RN
  • Keanni Cole RN
  • Maureen Eisenberg RN
  • Cam Hawkins RN
  • El Katz RN
  • Mary Kendall RN
  • Janet Mackin EdD, RN
  • Raluca Moldovan RN
  • Kendra Stewart RN
  • Winslow Wu RN


PROJECT WHEELCHAIR, an experiential learning project conducted at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing in New York, N.Y., involved a group of nursing students spending time in a wheelchair. With experiential learning, real-life interaction is the teacher. The project provided valuable learning experiences and insights for nurses into how disabilities impact patients.Every nurse wants to provide excellent care and have good interactions with patients, but sometimes it's hard to understand the patient's concerns. This can be particularly true with patients who have disabilities: Although nurses may have experience caring for these patients, they typically don't have personal experience with a disability. When nurses understand issues from patients' viewpoints, they can interact with them more effectively and provide better care.We conducted a pilot project during the 2008-2009 school year to explore ways to bridge this gap with experiential learning. The project involved more than 70 nursing students who each spent approximately 1 day in a wheelchair attempting to perform all of their normal activities. The participants also kept a daily diary and completed a short questionnaire about the experience.With experiential learning, the student gains knowledge by experiencing life events rather than by indirect means, such as by reading or observing others.1 The typical curriculum for an associate's degree in nursing includes much experiential learning, such as clinical and lab classes. But in these conventional experiential learning methods, which are focused on required nursing skills, information is presented from a nurse's viewpoint. Project Wheelchair was designed to provide experiential learning from a different viewpoint, that of the patient with a disability.After their day spent in a wheelchair, all students completed a questionnaire designed to determine the impact of this experience. To establish a baseline, the questionnaire included questions about each participant's

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