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Photo of Dr. Ursula Klopfstein-Bichsel and Dr. KellyAs a former forensic pathologist, Dr. Ursula Klopfstein-Bichsel smiled like a kid playing with a new toy as she performed a virtual autopsy on a digital cadaver.

To examine the male cadaver’s large intestine, all she had to do was make a few incisions by running her right hand across an Anatomage Table, which resembles a massive iPad.

Klopfstein-Bichsel, a lecturer in the Department of Health at Switzerland’s Bern University of Applied Sciences, observed a variety of new things while visiting the UNC Greensboro School of Nursing for two weeks in April. She watched nursing students attend classes, perform simulations, and take their objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). She also attended a Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball game.

Klopfstein-Bichsel’s visit was part of an international collaboration in which UNCG faculty members are helping Bern start a nurse practitioner program this fall. The partnership could eventually expand to include a global exchange program that would give UNCG nursing students the opportunity to study in Switzerland.

“I guess both sides are very excited about this collaboration,” Klopfstein-Bichsel said, “and we at Bern are very very happy for all those things we learn from UNCG because you have much more experience in nurse practitioner courses than we have.”

More than 20 students have already enrolled in Bern’s nurse practitioner program. With the first day of class quickly approaching, Klopfstein-Bichsel traveled to the United States to work with UNCG faculty members on creating the program’s curriculum. They also developed content for courses that Swiss professors will teach, including in pathophysiology and pharmacology.

Nurse practitioner is a new profession in Switzerland, and it has become a problem that there are some regions of the country where nurse practitioners aren’t available. At the same time, Klopfstein-Bichsel said some Swiss physicians have raised concerns about Bern starting a program that trains nurses to perform certain procedures that doctors have traditionally done.

“My medical colleagues, some are very excited, and the others are very critical. They say, ‘But nurses can’t do this,’” Klopfstein-Bichsel said. “They fear nurses will pick work from them, and they’re very skeptical. We have to work on that to make them confident about this new role.” As a result, there is pressure for Bern’s program to have a successful launch in a few months to avoid further criticism. UNCG’s nursing faculty have provided guidance along the way. Photo of Dr. Ursula Klopfstein-Bichsel

“Since they’re just starting the nurse practitioner role, it will not be equivalent to what is in the United States,” said Dr. Kelly Stamp, who has been instrumental in UNCG’s collaboration with Bern as an associate professor and department chair of Family and Community Nursing. “But I think giving Ursula the opportunity to see where the role will go over the years and where it will end up is important. It’s helpful for her to see how independent we teach our students to be and the level of nursing that we’re teaching.”

UNCG’s partnership with Bern is actually several years in the making. In 2013, Stamp started traveling to Switzerland to teach as a part of a global exchange program that Boston College has with the University of Lausanne. At the time, she was a faculty member at Boston College. In addition to teaching, Swiss officials asked Stamp to give talks about her research on heart failure to doctors around the country. They later asked if she would continue to collaborate with them on new projects after she joined UNCG’s faculty in August 2017. In the spring of 2018, when Bern administrators needed help starting its nurse practitioner program, they reached out to Stamp.

“We’ll be there on the side to make sure they’re sustainable,” Stamp said. “If we need to go over to Switzerland, we’ll go over. If we need to talk via Skype more often, we’ll do that to help mitigate any barriers that Ursula is having along the way.”

By Alex Abrams
Dr. Ursula Klopfstein-Bichsel in both photos, with Dr. Kelly Stamp in red jacket in the top photo. Photos by Alex Abrams.

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