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The masked educator

One academic is taking role play to a whole new level to teach her students about nursing practice, writes Annie May.

The reality of living in a technological age is that, at times, human connection can be lost. And in nursing, that loss can cost lives.

It is these beliefs that lead Dr Kerry Reid-Searl to transform herself from a nurse educator of 19 years experience to a 72-year-old retired butcher. Or one of the five other different characters she has created.

“Communication, for me, is the essence of effective nursing care. If students can’t communicate, the bottom line is that patients aren’t necessarily going to be telling them how they feel and that is when safe patient outcomes become an issue,” says Reid-Searl, an associate professor at CQUniversity.

“Students are so used to computer programs, games and texting on mobiles that face-to-face interaction at times is lost. So I needed to bring into the classroom, not something that I could create on a computer program or a video, but something real that would promote the level of human interaction required in the nursing profession.”

That something was role play. Wanting to distance herself from the identity of lecturer, Reid-Searl had a make-down – rotten teeth, funny hat, a frock and glasses she could barely see through. So was the birth of her first character, the eccentric Iva Sore.

“It worked well, with the students really getting into Iva, but there was still a power imbalance because students could still detect the lecturer under the costume,” says Reid-Searl.

“So I had to look at different ways I could be totally masked as the educator.

“We tried with solid masks but it was not until we found an American company who could make realistic flexible silicone masks that the idea really took off.”

As well as now being totally hidden she also changes her voice. But the most important aspect of the character is that they have an identity and a history.

Reid-Searl says students have engaged well with her new characters, epitomised by Cyril Smith, the aforementioned retired butcher, and former matron Murial Mona Moore.

A self-proclaimed first-aid guru, Cyril is forever teaching the students all sorts of things from washing their hands. He also feels he is in a place to comment on the care as his granddaughter is studying nursing so he loves to read her books, and he has been in an out of hospital for a while now.

Research into the teaching process shows that students are confronted at first but then they become comfortable and these characters become part of their lives over the course of their degree. Cyril has even turned up to student dances and graduation dinners.

“One of the benefits of this teaching technique is that we can use the reality of clinical practice based on my experience as a clinician over many years. Also being able to set professional standards of what I would expect students to be able to do to deal with the unpredictable nature of clients in the real health care setting,” says Reid-Searl.

“Even though students know that it is me masked behind the silicone props, they automatically go into role of dealing with the patient. They no longer see Kerry the lecturer, they see these characters.”

The American company has now been approached to make a whole range of authentic looking wounds, body parts including breasts, abdomens and genitalia and even colostomies.

These resources will be a part of what Reid-Searl is creating as MASK-ED (KRS simulation) which has recently been trade-marked.

MASK-ED simply means masking of the educator and masking of the educational process, whilst KRS is about knowledgeable, realistic and spontaneous simulation.

CQUniversity is also in the final stages of establishing an agreement with the company and the silicone props made for MASK-ED will be exclusive. The University will market MASK-ED (KRS simulation) which will include not only the props but also educational resources.

Following a launch in March 2011, the MASK-ED packages will be available through CQUniversity to other universities, and other disciplines.

“We believe MASK-ED has application not only for nursing and health settings but in any learning situation involving a patient or client relationship.”

And lecturers shouldn’t let their lack of acting skills deter them from using such a technique.

“I am always asked if you need to be able to act, and actually you don’t. I’m not a NIDA graduate but it’s about me understanding the content of what I need to deliver to my students.

“It isn’t about acting; it’s about being a passionate educator.”

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