UAH, Huntsville Hospital celebrate 31 years of Let's Pretend Hospital


Members of the Let's Pretend Hospital Student Management Team (green T-shirts) pictured with College of Nursing faculty Melissa Lonnergan (Clinical Assistant Professor), and Christy Bacon (Clinical Instructor).

Michael Mercier | UAH

In the last three years nearly 8,000 area first graders have been "admitted" to Let's Pretend Hospital. The simulated hospital has been a joint venture between The University of Alabama in Huntsville's (UAH) College of Nursing and Huntsville Hospital for 31 years. Let's Pretend Hospital (LPH) is a program designed for first graders to help reduce the fear and anxiety they may experience if admitted to the hospital or visit the emergency room.

This year, LPH will "admit" nearly 3,000 first graders from area public, homeschool and private schools from Monday, March 28 to Friday, April 1, from 8:30 a.m., to 2 p.m., in the UAH College of Nursing's Learning and Technology Resource Center (located on the third floor). "Super Heroes" is the 2016 LPH theme.

"Let's Pretend Hospital is one example of the strong partnership between Huntsville Hospital and the UAH College of Nursing. It is a win win endeavor for both institutions and the community. Our nursing students very much look forward to this event each year and are able to demonstrate the college's core values of integrity, inspiration, caring, excellence, and wellness when working with this pediatric population during the event," said Dr. Marsha Howell Adams, Dean of the College of Nursing.

Since 2014, UAH nursing faculty members Christy Bacon (Clinical Instructor), and Melissa Lonnergan (Clinical Assistant Professor), have been charged with the responsibility of coordinating the highly popular community health program.

Bacon and Lonnergan extend most, if not all compliments to UAH junior and senior nursing students for successfully running the well-oiled machine that has been Let's Pretend Hospital (LPH) for more than three decades.

The week after LPH ends, the UAH College of Nursing faculty and students start planning for the next year with event evaluations. "Our evaluation chair creates a detailed evaluation of the operations during the week-long project. We use the assessment to see how we can improve LPH in the future," said Bacon. "But the real work begins for us at the start of the spring semester. In order to create the 'Let's Pretend Hospital' model, we need a management team of students to oversee the project. These roles include CEO, security, art, staffing, entertainment, evaluation, photography, and human resources. Our budget varies from year to year, but we generally need approximately $5,000 in supplies to run LPH and approximately 45 students per day," Lonnergan added.

The simulated hospital allows UAH nursing students the opportunity for hands-on-interaction with "sick" first-graders. Additionally, nursing students apply developmental theory in teaching children about nursing and health care. Youngsters visit the pretend emergency room, X-ray/laboratory, operating room, patient's room/Miss Molly, play area, and safety room.

The process for selecting the student LPH management team begins during the first week of class, when Lonnergan and Bacon distribute applications to students in the community health course. Students are asked for role preference during LPH, at this time they can also apply for the management team.

"It is important that our students are not only strong academically but have strong interpersonal skills," said Bacon. "It is surprising how much experience our students have with leadership and management. We have students who have served as platoon leaders in the military, overseen operations at an orphanage in Central America that housed 600 children, and worked with youths in the Boys and Girls Club. Many have remained active with various children's camps and worked as leaders here at UAH helping fellow students." Educational benefits are gained by both UAH nursing students and area first graders according to UAH faculty members Bacon and Lonnergan. "All of our students get to utilize critical thinking skills when working at LPH. They learn important customer service skills when working with first graders, parents, and teachers. They learn how to work as a team and operate as a group," said Lonnergan.

The simulated hospital experience serves as an invaluable teaching tool where students have the opportunity to make critical decisions regarding quality of care and safety, and the importance of therapeutic communication skills. "In the clinical setting, it can be difficult to expose all of your students to the skills and patient care you would like them to encounter every time they are in clinical," noted Lonnergan. "However, the simulated environment allows us to choose the patient that the student will be caring for."

Beyond the clinical aspects of nursing, UAH nursing students act as guides making sure first graders get off the bus safely and escort them inside the building to await their "hospital" visit. Each room has a senior nursing student who works as room manager to ensure quality is maintained in the delivery of information to the children. The command desk inside the main hall of the simulated hospital is staffed with the management team. "These nursing students operate as the central station to deal with any issues that may arise with the visiting first graders. The management team also runs a debriefing session at the end of each day. This is where students discuss with their peers any problems that have occurred during LPH and recognize individuals and situations that went well," said Bacon.

"What we as educators and future nurses have learned is that we can make the hospital less scary for children," said Bacon. "We have gotten letters of thanks from many parents whose children have attended LPH and then had to be in the hospital. They tell us that their child was not afraid because they had been to "Let's Pretend Hospital" and they knew what to expect."

Meet the UAH College of Nursing Let's Pretend Hospital 2016 Student Management Team

Gabriel "Gabby" Bensel, CEO - Senior, graduating in May, a native of Shawnee, KS. A (1LT), Medical Service Officer in the US Army Reserves. Duties as CEO prior to the LPH event include supervising the management staff, writing a formal invitation to the President of the University and Provost, and giving an informative presentation to classes volunteering. During LPH will be the faculty liaison, giving morning speeches, and de-briefing staff at the end of the day.


Emily Cornelison, Art Chair - Senior from Ardmore, TN. Worked in an orphanage in Central America in a medical position ensuring the basic needs of children. Will do mission work after graduation. As LPH Art chair offer ideas for decorations, create order list, and then create the decorations with members of the management team. LPH theme this year is "Super Heroes," will incorporate in all decorations and "hospital" rooms.


Emily Wright, Security - Senior from Florence, AL. Ultimate goal is to move overseas and work in the medical field in a third world country. As LPH security co-chair, work with chief of campus police to ensure the safety and security of all of the guests, volunteers, and students. Managing the logistics of the event behind the scenes by making sure groups are on time, rotations run smoothly, visitors know where to go, and all student volunteers understand and execute their duties.


Kayla Luechtefeld, Security - Senior from Huntsville. Attended LPH in first grade and left that day knowing nursing would be a career goal. As a member of the LPH Security team, duties include managing the safety of everyone involved with LPH. Work as a team to maintain safety in high traffic areas such as the parking lots and the stairways of the nursing building. Top concern is for first grade visitors stay safe and have fun.


Miesha Morris, Staffing - Senior from Tuscumbia, AL. Chose nursing because it is a passion, that changes lives and helps others. Role as LPH Staffing Co-Chair is to assign every volunteer and student working the event to a task. To make sure we have enough people to go through each day efficiently and smoothly.


Rachel Gilbert, Staffing - Senior from Madison, AL. Decided on a nursing career after working as a volunteer at Huntsville Hospital, also attended LPH as a first grader. As a LPH Staffing Co-Chair, responsible for utilizing management skills to create a staffing plan for the entire week of event.


Stephanie Simpson, Entertainment - Senior from Guntersville, AL. Dreamed of being a nurse with a challenging career. Role in LPH as Entertainment chair is to create all age appropriate costumes worn by the nursing students, and age appropriate games to entertain the children while outside teaching rooms. Communicate effectively with LPH CEO and faculty in charge. Excited to be working with the children in LPH.


Erica Smith, Entertainment - Senior from Florence, AL. Wanted to be nurse after observing ill family members being cared for by nurses, who comforted them the most during their hospital stays. Learning lesson: nurses heal people. As part of the entertainment team for LPH, responsibilities include creating costumes, developing games for children, also working together with the CEO and faculty members in charge to create a fun week for the kids.


Comfort Emelike, Evaluation Chair - Senior graduating in May, from Virginia Beach, VA. Decided to attend UAH's nursing program because of a passion for helping people, and making a change in others lives. LPH responsibilities include collecting data from the children and staff and evaluating the program for its effectiveness. Additional duties include reporting data that has been collected and analyzed to the appropriate Huntsville Hospital staff.


Chase Putnam, Human Resources - A senior from Scottsboro, AL. Choice to attend UAH was an easy. The university has a solid reputation that holds high regard. The decision to pursue a degree in nursing stems directly from long-lived desire to help people. It is HR's duty to provide a sense of accountability and recognition for our exceptional LPH team members. Staff prizes awarded daily, as well as creative ways for hard workers of LPH to be nominated for their performance.


Brianna Frederickson, Human Resources - A senior student, from Lynchburg, VA. Goal is to become a pediatric nurse practitioner and work with children who have type one diabetes. As a LPH human resource manager duties include motivating and encouraging student workers and management team. Creating prizes and awards each day for student workers. Also responsible for facilitating communication between the management team and the student workers.


Kaitlyn Boyett, Photography - A senior student graduating in May. Decided to attend UAH because it has one of the top nursing programs in the state. Both parents were medics in the Army. As LPH Photographer, duties include capturing insightful moments of first graders being introduced to the hospital setting. Maintains photographic diary of the event and share pictures with UAH Office of Marketing and Communication for publicity.


Christy Bacon

Melissa Lonnergan