Sentinel City® Provides a Controlled Environment for Evaluating Community Health Assessment Skills

Accurately judging a nursing student’s observation skills is essential when teaching them about community health, but how can you do an “apples-to-apples” comparison if each one is gathering data in a different location? Plus, how can a nurse educator verify what students report, if they don’t know the city?

Alicia Murray MSN, RN, CHPN, is an Assistant Professor who teaches Community and Population Health to senior students in Husson’s BSN program. She also is Director of Clinical Services, overseeing the simulation requirements for both graduate and undergraduate programs.

About 75% of Husson students commute to school. Until three years ago, when Murray first started using Sentinel City, it was difficult to assign community health assessments both because not all students were in the same location, and it was daunting and time-consuming to ensure that the data they collected was accurate.

“Sentinel City offers a consistent environment for the community assessment component of the course,” Murray explains. “It gives us the ability to have students in a confined area, where they can understand all of the resources and intricacies of a community, and to guide them on ‘the known’ instead of the unknown.”

Data Verification

Sentinel City provides visibility into the environment as well as the student capabilities, just as with traditional assignments, which require students to support what they think with documentation and rationale. It saves time and puts nurse educators into a position in which they can confidently verify what students report and the plans they develop. “I don’t need to research every different city to ensure that they’ve given me accurate data,” Murray says. “It’s been a great tool.”

Murray uses Sentinel City as the vehicle for writing a technical paper and creating a research poster focused on a topic the student chooses. She also uses Sentinel U’s Safety Assessment and Community Care Plan assignment, so students can “look at the community with a different lens and understand the safety components as well as the issues of a community. They can identify strengths, areas of opportunity for improvement, and identify individual needs for citizens as well as those of the community.”

Diversity Gets Student “Thinking Differently”

Murray points to the diversity of citizens a student encounters when touring Sentinel City as one of the features that makes it a valuable tool. “It gets them thinking differently. It gives them a flavor for different cultures, religions and economic status, because I really encourage them to dig into the citizens and issues presented.”

While nursing is often a task-driven profession, it also requires high level conceptual skills, especially regarding relating information from multiple sources to a specific health issue. That includes outside resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), but also the virtual setting. “What does domestic violence look like in the home? What types of challenges do people have if they can’t meet their spiritual or religious need?”

Murray adds that Sentinel U products can enable students to recognize different social determinants of health, such as being food impoverished, when they are introduced to a new way of thinking. “I think details in Sentinel City are great, from the dogs and birds to prisoners rioting or people picketing at city hall and the mayor’s response.”

Husson University, located in Bangor, Maine, offers BSN and Graduate Degrees in Family and Mental Health Nursing. A core tenet of their mission is: “Nursing practice is achieved through a balance of knowledge, intelligence, confidence, competence, and understanding in professional relationships with individuals, families, groups and communities.”


Providing a consistent environment to perform community and population health assessments


Sentinel U’s Sentinel City and Safety Assessment and Community Care Plan


Inconsistencies eliminated and learners exposed to a myriad of individuals with different needs

“It gets them thinking differently. It gives them a flavor for different cultures, religions and economic status, because I really encourage them to dig into the citizens and issues presented.”