Simulations breathe life into health education
“HELP! Please! I need HELP!” An urgent plea for help sounds from the student commons lobby in the University of Alberta’s Edmonton Clinic Health Academy. Four health science students chatting in a nearby hallway look at one another, drop what they’re doing and run.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” says a man in a baseball cap. “My friend, he was just eating a bagel and collapsed. Now he won’t get up.” A man is sprawled on the ground; his stomach’s contents lie next to him.
Medical students Mandy Cheung and Simran Jassar, speech-language pathology student Jennifer Fung and emergency medical responder student Kelsey McCormack immediately begin working together to revive the man.
This scenario has all the drama and urgency of a real medical emergency, but it isn’t real. It is a simulation to help teach the importance of good communication. The four students will sit down later and reflect on what they did right and how they can improve during real emergencies. The exercise was one of 23 interdisciplinary health team simulations set up for a day of health-care communication and team learning at HELP! Save Stan Saturday, held Feb. 4 at the U of A.
The event, now in its second years, is a joint initiative involving the University of Alberta, NorQuest College, MacEwan University, NAIT and Alberta Health Services and hosts more than 275 students in 24 different health-science disciplines. It is funded through the Access to the Future Innovation Fund from Advanced Education and Technology.
“Students experience a realistic, contextual health-care situation in a no-risk setting,” says Sharla King, director of the Health Sciences Council’s Health Sciences Education and Research Commons. “It’s a safe place to make mistakes and learn how to work and communicate on an interdisciplinary team before practising in real life.”
Examples of simulations included a five-patient emergency room “ER mash-up,” encountering a suicidal person, delivering a baby and conducting patient interviews as a team. To create a realistic experience, simulations used trained medical actors called standardized patients, virtual world “second-life” simulations and high-fidelity mannequins with the ability to talk, breathe and even die.
“This simulation event has been an amazing experience,” says McCormack. “The most important thing I took away is that effective communication and teamwork have a direct effect on the patients’ care and the success of the situation.”