Unique presentation earns first place for health care team

Nursing doctoral student Carol Robinson conducts a simulation with standard patients Larry and Audrey.
Nursing doctoral student Carol Robinson conducts a simulation with standard patients Larry and Audrey.
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A unique conference presentation by an interdisciplinary team of Kirkhof College of Nursing faculty, Simulation Center staff members and a doctoral student received national recognition and brought session attendees to tears.

The team created a poster presentation on therapeutic end-of-life communication using standard patients and a computerized patient simulator, or SimMan. Team members were Ruthann Brintnall, associate professor of nursing; Kelly Tomaszewski, standardized patient program coordinator; and Carol Robinson, a nursing doctoral student.

The poster received first place at the Association of Standardized Patient Educators conference in early June. It depicted the results of showing videotaped scenarios to a nursing class to help students become more comfortable communicating end-of-life directives with patients and their families.

In the videos, Robinson talked with standard patients Larry and Audrey after Larry was told of his cancer diagnosis. It was reminiscent of a soap opera and had all the characters: the tearful wife, the caring nurse, and the stoic patient.

Robinson said the video mirrored actual situations, as many patients tend to shut down after hearing the word "cancer" from a physician, making it difficult to communicate directives with patients and family members. Robinson had worked as a hospice and palliative care nurse and is in the first cohort of KCON's doctoral class.

"Less than four percent of student nurses get a chance to perform end-of-life care skills and therapeutic communication, and less than 10 percent of practice nurses report they received undergraduate or continuing education in palliative or end-of-life care," Robinson said.

Tomaszewski said it created the perfect scenario for using the Simulation Center’s resources. "Simulation is a safe place to practice," she said. "Students are able to practice basic skills that will get them closer to becoming a professional." Standard patients are healthy people trained to portray physical symptoms and concerns of a patient.

Brintnall used the videos in her End of Life Care course, a general education course open to all students. She said while many students had not yet experienced death of a family member, they were deeply moved by the videos.

"They made comments that they don't have the experience to do this, that it would be scary," Brintnall said. "I told them if you have nothing to say, you say this: 'I know you are sad. I don't know what to say, but I want you to know that I care. I will do my best to help you.'"

Tomaszewski said many people at the ASPE conference were teary-eyed through the presentation but interested in the details of how to replicate the session at their institutions.