Healthcare, social work and medical students team up for interprofessional education simulation

Students consulting with one another during the simulation.

A 55-year-old male patient was lying on a gurney in an examination room, surrounded by healthcare workers in an array of colorful scrubs and white coats.

Most of them wore stethoscopes around their necks, and many took furious notes as the patient described the motorcycle crash he was involved in. He was riding without a helmet and swerved to miss a multi-vehicle accident. At that point, he said between halted breaths, he lost control and landed in a concrete drainage ditch on the side of the road. The man complained of right chest wall pain and was having difficulty breathing. He denied any head trauma.

As the caregivers began to probe the man’s medical history, it comes out that he has been dependent on opioids in the past. He said he’s been clean for 14 months and refused to take pain medications.

Monitoring from an observation from in the Carilion Clinic Simulation Center.

This was the scenario presented to approximately 120 healthcare professions students from Radford University, Radford University Carilion (RUC) and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) at the Interprofessional Simulation Day on April 22. The annual event was held at the Carilion Clinic Center for Simulation, Research and Patient Safety in Roanoke.

Throughout the day, groups of physician assistant (PA), respiratory therapy, nursing, social work and medical students filtered into the 13,000-square-foot facility and worked with standardized patients sporting moulage injuries in simulated exam and operating rooms. Each room has an adjoining supervision room with recording equipment and one-way windows to monitor the students as they work together. The groups each met in a classroom setting for an introduction to the event with a simulation moderator, then proceeded to the 30-minute simulation and finished with a debrief on their experience.

The goal of the simulation was to show the students how they can work together in teams to assess their patients’ needs, treat them and recommend additional resources, as needed. This coordinated care of patients by a collaborative team of healthcare providers is also known as “interprofessionalism.”

A physician assistant student at the simulation.

“This is a valuable opportunity for students in the different programs to engage with each other,” said Patricia Airey, D.H.Sc, PA-C, one of the organizers of the simulation event and an assistant professor and academic coordinator for the physician assistant program at RUC. “The students don’t necessarily understand that each of them is a potential leader depending on what’s happening in the clinical environment. They all bring specific knowledge to the table, and we’re teaching them that they can be a leader at any given point in time. Everybody has something they can contribute to the care of the patient.”

Airey, who has been helping organize variations of this event for over a decade – first for Jefferson College of Health Sciences and now for RUC – added that it has been an education even for her to learn the details of what other health professions do.

“We didn’t have this when I was a student,” she said, “so it’s been really interesting to explore other professions and therapies. As a PA, it’s really helpful to be able to explain fully what it means to send a patient to an occupational therapist, for example, for the next step in their care, so we’re providing a holistic approach to patient care.”

A student working with a standardized patient.

Kerry Fay Vandergrift, Ph.D., another event organizer who is an associate professor and coordinator in the School of Social Work and serves as the interim associate dean of interprofessional education and diversity equity and inclusion of Waldron College, agreed.

“Every day, these students are learning about their own professions, mastering the skills and the background and theories that they need to be good at their individual roles,” said Vandergrift.  “But we know in the real-world setting, they are all working together constantly. We think if we’re in the same room, we’re working together, but that’s not always the case.”

Vandergrift said that the ultimate goal of the simulation and exposing students to interprofessionalism is not just providing education, but improving patient outcomes.

“We often ask students who else should be in the room,” Vandergrift said. “Even though we’re bringing all of these professions together, we want them to see that there can always be others you can call on for their expertise to help the patient recover.”

Physician assistant students Ali Wickman (left) and Mackenzie Cowne work with a standardized patient.

Informally, both Airey and Vandergrift said that there has been anecdotal evidence that healthcare practitioners that have gone through the interprofessional simulation do take away valuable experience.

“We have had students say, you told us this would happen, and it did,” said Vandergrift. “Part of our bigger plan is to expand our research from what’s happening here today into the community to find out if our recent graduates are practicing interprofessionally in a way that improves patient outcomes.”

One of those who participated in the simulation was physician assistant student Mackenzie Cowne, who said that even though she has had a clinical rotation in a hectic emergency room, the simulation experience showed her there was more to learn.

“Medicine and healthcare is a collaborative team effort,” Cowne said. “Exercises like this help us develop our skills in communicating with other professionals in the field, and that’s good for the patient in the long run.”

A team of healthcare and medical students at the simulation event.

Cowne added that the simulation provides students with confidence in the skills they have and helps them focus on the abilities they need to develop further.

Ali Wickman, another physician assistant student, said that the simulation gave her the chance to understand how approaching healthcare as a team can ultimately help patients experience better outcomes. She said that working with students in the other healthcare professions gave her an understanding of what they do that she didn’t have previously.

“Today helped me identify what each of the people does who care for our patients,” said Wickman. “I wasn’t very aware of the role and responsibilities of social workers, but after today, I understand it better. Our common goal is to provide the best patient care possible, and simulations like this are key to help us do that.”

Photography by Jared Ladia, Carilion Clinic

Apr 29, 2022
Mark Lambert