4 MCPHS students in a lab looking at papers.
Academic Innovation | 6/17/2024

Realistic Patient Simulation Puts Students’ Skills to the Test

By Jennifer Persons

4 MCPHS students in a lab looking at papers.

Students from four different programs practiced providing medical care for patients while working in an interprofessional care team.

Clinical simulations are a cornerstone of healthcare education. Students at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) are used to them. What they aren’t used to, however, is conducting simulations with students from other disciplines.

More than 400 students from the dental hygiene, nursing, pharmacy, and physician assistant (PA) studies programs at MCPHS Boston participated in the Team Observed Structured Clinical Encounter (TOSCE) this year. Instead of evaluating their clinical and patient skills, this experience tested students’ teamwork, interprofessional collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills.

“We are training students to provide patient-centered care and work together to create a plan that best addresses the patient’s needs,” said Jennifer Prisco, PharmD, who has organized three TOSCE experiences at MCPHS. “Our focus is to ensure students are not only prepared to enter the workforce but also have the skills to be an effective member of an interprofessional care team.”

For the exercise, students were divided into small groups, each with no more than one student from each program. They were sent into rooms with a patient, portrayed by an actor, experiencing a medical event. Students had three minutes to meet their teammates, and make a tentative plan of approach, then just 15 minutes to provide care.

“We were all a bit nervous going into the simulation, but it wasn’t necessary,” said Jessie Hundel, PharmD ’25. “There is no right answer. The goal really is seeing how you work within a team to help the patient.”

Hundel, the student representative of the School of Pharmacy – Boston’s Interprofessional Education Committee, was assigned a patient experiencing a medical emergency. Specifics of the simulations these students encountered are omitted to preserve the integrity of the TOSCE for future participants.

“As the pharmacist in the room, I physically took a step back while the PA and the nurse performed their exam,” she recalled. “It was a great experience watching them interact with a patient in crisis with such poise and professionalism. Once the patient was settled, I provided medication counseling.”

Each group of students faced different scenarios and barriers to overcome, medical or otherwise. Christl Despois, a dental hygiene student who graduated shortly after the simulation, was uniquely equipped to face one of the challenges presented to her group.

“The patient spoke Spanish, which happens to be my first language,” said Despois, who used both her language and clinical knowledge in the simulation. “I’m not an expert, but I was able to interpret for the other student, make sure the patient understood, and address concerns about the patient’s oral health.”

Working with other providers presented a new challenge for the nursing students, who participate in simulations regularly as part of their coursework.

“We haven’t had the chance to address other members of the healthcare team,” said Liberty Meisl, BSN ’24. “It was a turning point for us. Many of us may have self-doubt and question whether we’re ready to be nurses. This experience reassured us that we can take our knowledge and use it in the real world.”

Students were not evaluated for a grade. Instead, they received formative feedback from faculty observers that they can use as they progress into clinical rotations and other patient experiences.

“The instant feedback was so beneficial,” said Nicole Trotta, BSN ’24. “We didn’t walk out of the room wondering what went well or what could’ve gone better. After it was over, I felt more comfortable working with other providers and confident that I can apply what I’ve learned.”

Although the TOSCE forced students to face considerable uncertainty, each participant walked away with new trust in their abilities and a fresh perspective on the importance of interprofessional collaboration.

“We all have to work together,” said Soohyun Park, MPAS ’25. “We only have one goal, and that is finding the best, personal treatment for every patient.”