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SCU lecturers Andrew Woods and Cathy Avila as characters Dan Tucker and Margo Barrington-Smythe. Photo: John Waddell/SCU

Teachers don masks, suits to simulate older patients

In scenes reminiscent of a blockbuster movie set or undercover exposé, silicon masks and body suits that resemble seniors are being incorporated into university campuses to prepare students to care for older patients.

Southern Cross University has been using simulation props, known as Mask-ED and developed by professor Kerry Reid-Searl while teaching undergraduate nursing students at Central Queensland University, to develop six unique characters that will interact with students in the School of Health and Human Sciences. The university is also sharing the tool with other disciplines.

In a series of roadshows across SCU’s campuses, teaching staff in occupational therapy, social work and speech pathology have been introduced to ways the intervention could be incorporated into their classes.

Dr Louise Horstmanshof, the simulated learning environment project leader at SCU, said Mask-ED provides students with an opportunity to develop and practise tasks – like putting in a drip or washing genitalia – without endangering patients, and added students also develop critical non-technical skills, such as learning to communicate with older people.

The university’s educators volunteer to become a specific character, complete with a name, age and background story. Horstmanshof said: “Character and narrative development, including health history, is important and happens in real time, starting with first-year students when they meet patients like Dan or Milly for the first time. Everything that happens to Dan or Milly from then on becomes part of the students’ patient history.

“Our educators draw on their years of experience in the health sector to embody these characters. Each character has her or his own voice and mannerisms. The situation becomes believable because the patient responds naturally to the student and suddenly the student gets a huge psychological buy-in. Students learn best when they’re emotionally involved.”

Horstmanshof said: “Roleplay has been a teaching tool for a very long time. The mask and body suit takes roleplay one step further and enables the student to really see their teacher as a patient.”


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