On a visit to the UVM campus in 2014, Aline Demers ‘55 asked to see the Clinical Simulation Laboratory, a space that didn’t exist when she attended college. The “Sim Lab” opened in Rowell Hall in 2011 to allow for a sense of realism and real-time problem solving with supervised instruction in a low-risk setting. The lab’s state-of-the art technology and educational opportunities astonished Demers.
“There was nothing going on in the Sim Lab that day, so I was able to show her around and walk her through the virtual hospital, task trainer room and debriefing rooms,” recalled Seth Gordon, Simulation Education Assistant. “I created a simulation for her and we talked about how we can create any type of scenario based on a student’s level of learning. What impressed her the most was that it’s a safe environment for students to learn, and that nursing students and medical students can work together. She liked that concept.”
That tour inspired Demers to give funds to support interdisciplinary education in clinical simulation at UVM. The gift paid for a team of two nurses, a physical therapist, speech language pathologist and physician in family medicine to attend the Interprofessional Education Collaborative Institute in Virginia. In 2015, Demers gave a majority of her estate to CNHS to further support interprofessional education.
Legacy for collaborative learning
Demers, who passed away in March 2017, was a practicing nurse, researcher and nursing professor. A native Vermonter, she received her bachelor’s in nursing from UVM. After graduation, she taught at the Boston University School of Nursing until 1960.
Demers returned to UVM in 1960 to teach nursing students, specializing in physiology and medical-surgical nursing, with an emphasis on cardiology and neurology. An expert teacher, she presented workshops and continuing education offerings at UVM, other universities and health agencies. Her students and colleagues admired her flamboyant personality, intricate cartoon drawings and funny stories. She retired from UVM in 1986.
As a teacher, Demers encouraged interprofessional education, a practice in which students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes. Working together in a simulated patient care setting allows students to practice essential teamwork behaviors such as managing high workload and coordinating under stress. For example, fourth year medical students and undergraduate nursing students collaborate to resuscitate standardized patients, or role-players, in simulated cardiac arrests. Demers’ bequest ensures that medical, nursing and other health sciences students continue developing teamwork skills.
In announcing Demers' bequest on October 1, 2015, Dean Patricia Prelock said, “The College of Nursing and Health Sciences will now have a significant opportunity to collaborate with our student and faculty colleagues in medicine to facilitate a strategic focus in Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice. These funds will enable us to create a green and gold professorship for a faculty leader focused on interprofessional education, and prepare faculty to teach in our interprofessional education program so that they can become the innovators and teachers Aline believes are critical to making a difference in the care of patients and their families.”
In addition to her roles as nurse, researcher and educator, Demers was a painter and cartoonist. She illustrated two books: Directory of the Occult and Paranormal and Primer of Neurology and Neurophysiology, which she also co-authored. She drew elaborate, witty sketches depicting nurses and patients in comical scenes. She especially enjoyed painting landscapes, and filled her home with beautiful renderings of mountains, farms and covered bridges.
Perhaps her inclination to art and drama is what fascinated her about the sim lab. “She liked how real everything seemed,” Gordon reflected. “When you walk in it looks like a real hospital room. You can get into it. I showed her the high fidelity mannequin that gives you real feedback. It’s a great way to learn, and she was impressed by that.”
Demers served as chairperson of several committees for the Visiting Nurse Association and was active in the Vermont State Nurses’ Association and Vermont Chapter of the American Heart Association. She received a service award from the American Heart Association in 1974. She remained an active member of the Department of Nursing community following her retirement, sharing her wit, wisdom and warmth at nursing reunion events.