CWRU nursing alumni act as patients in teaching program

Arielle Soffer, Staff Reporter

Even though their degree may be in the healthcare sector, it turns out that several Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing alumni have a hidden talent: acting.

According to Celeste Alfes, an assistant professor and the director of the Learning Resource Center at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing (BSN), one of the biggest challenges nurses face in their everyday jobs is the constant patient interaction, which Alfe says many nursing students find intimidating.

To combat this, Alfes, along with the dean of the school, Mary Kerr, and the professors of the psychiatric mental health course at the nursing school, have recently developed and implemented a standardized patient simulation program so that undergraduates may improve upon their communication skills. This program is unique in that it replaces a program previously run at the Mount Sinai Skills and Simulation Center, where paid actors were trained to play mental health patient scenarios and supplement the role-playing often done between students. Now, alumni volunteers of the nursing school are being trained to play these roles in order to provide real-life scenarios for nursing students to address.

This program, first run in the spring semester of 2013 with the sophomore BSN students, has been especially beneficial in terms of cost saving.
Every visit in the old program to the Mount Sinai Skills and Simulation Center to simulate these mental health patient scenarios used to cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, since the actors were being paid $20 per hour.

Alumni volunteers now have the opportunity to create relationships with current undergraduates. As registered nurses, Alfe said that alumni were eager to help when an email was sent. Additionally, an info session was held to encourage alumni to volunteer and apply for the program. Thirty alumni sent in formal applications, and about five were ultimately chosen to receive the two hour training required to be a part of the program.

The volunteers specifically acted out mental health patient scenarios, as these situations are typically heavily dependent on communication between nurse and patient. In an effort to be as realistic as possible, there were simulated patient charts describing various mental health conditions such as depression, suicidal ideations and substance abuse.

After both role-playing with other students and with the volunteers, students did post-tests and wrote a reflection paper.

To see whether the role-playing was effective, Alfes applied for and received a $20,000 grant from the National League for Nursing. This money will be put towards hiring professional actors to train for simulations to compare to the volunteer standardized patient simulations in the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters. The alumni will be working with the freshman nursing students this semester who will be interviewing the standardized patients on their medical histories.

In the future, alumni who volunteer will be further integrated into other disciplines such as with nurse practitioners who are studying the history of physicals and performing actual physical exams, with Masters of Science in Nursing students and with students in the School of Medicine.
Alfes also sees physical expansions on the horizon for the new program.

“The plan is to build private exam rooms with videotaping capabilities, specifically for these standardized patient experiences, as well as a communications laboratory for debriefing with a review of videotapes so students can get feedback,” said Alfes.

According to Alfes, the new relationship between nursing undergraduates and alumni has been a success, demonstrated in alumni’s desire to return and support the program. Alfes believes with this evidence, this program has the potential to expand greatly, and may influence other nursing schools across the country to change how they conduct their student experiences.