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Students in the nursing and physical therapy programs at MCPHS participating in an interprofessional collaboration exercise.

This Is Just a Drill: Interprofessional Education With a Twist in Worcester

  • Mr. Z is not having a good day. He is nauseous, and in such pain that he occasionally screams. Adding to his distress, he cannot communicate with his caregivers—he is not an English speaker, and there is no translator available.

    Thankfully, Mr. Z has one thing going for him: he is just a role, played by a first year MCPHS-Worcester/Manchester nursing student, as part of an interprofessional simulation exercise conducted by the School of Nursing–Worcester/Manchester and the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, with some help from students in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program. Designed by an interprofessional team (including Janna Kucharski-Howard, PT, DPT, MSM, Professor and Director of Clinical Education, and Cheryl J. Babin, PT, DHS, MHA, CAGS, Assistant Professor and Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education, from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program and assistant professors Joanna Bachour, MSN, RN and Gayle McGinty, MSN, RN from the School of Nursing–Worcester/Manchester) the simulation offers students the experience of communicating with other members of a healthcare team to coordinate patient care.

    Throughout the course of the 2.5-hour simulation program, nursing and physical therapy students take turns playing the roles of patients, family members, and nurses. MPAS students, in the last two weeks of their academic coursework before their clinical rotations begin, play a more experienced role: that of the licensed independent practitioner (LIP) rounding on patients. The nursing students must gather enough information about their simulated patients to provide the LIP with a comprehensive report on Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation (referred to by the shorthand SBAR). And, because patient care often involves surprises, there’s a twist: at any time during the simulation, an emergency (represented by a pink index card) can occur. For example, a patient may stumble and fall on her way out of bed, experience sudden cognitive decline, or pull out an IV. Together, the students must work to manage the emergencies and communicate effectively with their LIP.

    “I’ve seen the students learn how important it is to talk to each other and work together,” says Cheryl Babin, who is keeping a close eye on the simulation. “We try to let them figure out as much as possible. But there are always two observers on hand to help. We only step in when it’s an emergency.” By the third simulation, the nursing students are beginning to anticipate the questions that another caregiver might ask when stopping by a patient’s bedside. “It makes me stop and think, what else can I do before I go to a PA?” says Julie Cohen BSN ‘19. “We have to give them helpful information.”

    Additionally, the interprofessional exercise led to some eye-opening realizations from the participants. “It’s good to know that there are some big differences between practitioners’ definitions of processes, like a neuro screen,” said Jennise Morin DPT ‘19. The event also uncovered differing priorities, said Holden Thomas DPT ‘19. “Look at the priorities surrounding a hospital discharge. The nursing staff wants to make sure a wound is clean and covered, but as a physical therapist I am like, ‘This patient has stairs at home, so I’m not letting him leave until he proves that he can manage stairs!’"

    Many of the nursing and physical therapy students expressed gratitude for the opportunity to see another type of healthcare provider in action. “It was really nice to work with PTs; we only know this stuff from books,” said Jamie Clement BSN ‘19. But the learning wasn’t one-sided; the MPAS students also benefited from the experience. “In class, we learn how to give concise reports to physicians,” reported Joshua Anderson MPAS ‘19. “But it’s really eye-opening to be on the receiving end of that information and have everyone looking at me to determine what to do next.” As the physical therapy and nursing students continue with their educations, and the MPAS students move to the first stage of their careers, interprofessional events like this simulation exercise continue to enrich both groups’ learning experiences.

    Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) offers 100-plus degree programs that empower the next generation of healthcare professionals and provides interprofessional educational experiences designed to give students the hands-on experience they need to thrive in their future careers.