Interprofessional simulation key to prepping students for real-world healthcare

Jul 1, 2019Courtney Morris

What if medical professionals had to wait for real patients in life-threatening situations to practice lifesaving workforce collaboration?

It's no secret paramedics, doctors, nurses, and others work together to save lives. But opportunities for future healthcare providers to practice this critical teamwork are rare.

San Jacinto College is working to ensure best outcomes for patients by giving students the opportunity to put medical collaboration into action before entering the workforce.

Through interprofessional education like Hospital Days, the College seeks to break down communication and collaboration barriers in health care training.

Fast-Paced Learning

San Jacinto College's North Campus held two Hospital Days this June to give real-world training to students in nursing, emergency medical technology/paramedic, and pharmacy technician programs.

All health science students participate in clinical rotations in actual workplaces, but without interprofessional education, they would still typically operate within their "discipline silos," Rhonda Bell, Central Campus dean of natural and health sciences, said.

"Hospital Day simulates real situations and allows students the opportunity to practice communicating and collaborating with other disciplines in teams. At the same time, they are using clinical reasoning in a safe simulation environment to coordinate patient care," Bell said.

Bell worked with North Campus faculty to organize both recent Hospital Days, including planning learning-level-appropriate simulation scenarios. Faculty intentionally designed these scenarios to foster active communication among the disciplines.

During the first Hospital Day, half the scenario participants role-played patients, while the other half served as the health care providers. During the second event, the groups reversed roles. This switch is critical.

"Not only do students learn how to communicate as a health care team, but they also learn how it feels to be a patient watching the team," Bell said.

"Patients" received summaries of their symptoms and conditions right before acting out their scenarios — everything from a fall victim with a femur fracture to a dementia patient with escape artist tendencies.

One student, portraying a first-time mom giving birth en route to the hospital, pulled off the role with an Oscar-worthy performance. Frantic, she peppered her EMS responders with questions as they performed CPR on her newborn.

From EMS transfer and hospital floor care to prescription dispensing and patient discharge, "health care providers" made every decision as instructors observed from the sidelines.

Paramedics walked the line between compassion and quick response, while in the hospital wing, nurses juggled patients' competing demands with learning their medical histories and ordering prescriptions. Meanwhile, pharmacy technicians scurried to fill orders and deliver medications to the patient ward.

Paramedic student Juan Vasquez found it both challenging and rewarding to apply his coursework and clinical rotation experience to scenarios involving other health science programs.

"When we transferred patients to the ER, we had to give the nurses a report about what we had already done and what the patient's chief complaint was so they could begin long-term treatment," Vasquez said. "My biggest takeaway from the event was working with these other programs so everyone could experience the different ways our professions connect in the real world."

Collaboration for Success

Simulation is standard for all health science students, but interprofessional education opportunities are less common.

According to North Campus EMT instructor Kristine Kern, Hospital Day gives students the chance to encounter outside-the-norm conditions and assess and address the situations together. This practice makes perfect, especially when preparing for a high-stakes industry.

"Students in every health department get to play the role they have been playing for the last year or two. It's real-world experience without real patients to harm," Kern said.

After Hospital Day, faculty and students immediately debrief. How did the students communicate and collaborate with each other and understand their own responsibilities compared to their colleagues' roles?

Kern said this debrief goes beyond knowledge to soft skills.

"Do the students have the right aspect of domain, or bedside manner? It's a lot when you have to deliver bad news to someone in the health care profession. You have to do it correctly — show real empathy," she said.

The ultimate success is seeing students step outside their comfort zones and grasp the communication skills they will take into their future workplaces.

Bell, for example, remembers a nursing student who struggled to relay critical patient information from the paramedic to the doctor (a faculty member). By the end of Hospital Day, this student took an accurate report and interacted fluidly with her colleagues.

"You could see students' confidence levels build throughout the simulation event as they learned how to interact with students from other fields," Bell said.

This confidence is a key outcome of interprofessional education. Through training events like Hospital Day, San Jacinto College students are prepared to collaborate as they enter the health care workforce.