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Role-play Prepares Student Nurses for Entering the Hospital Environment

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By Megan M. Krischke, Contributor

Nursing students at Blue Ridge Community College recently got a taste of a hectic shift at the hospital without leaving the classroom. In an exercise that incorporated role-play, the students were divided into groups at the beginning of the “virtual hospital” experience. Roles within each group—those of team leader, RN, LPN, nursing assistant and patient—were then determined in a random drawing. The exercise was designed to test the students’ leadership, delegation and prioritization skills.

In addition to student nurses playing the roles of patients, the virtual hospital included three patient simulators—high-tech mannequins that can be programmed to present with a wide variety of ailments, display appropriate symptoms, and respond to treatment. The male mannequin experienced a heart attack and congestive heart failure during the exercise. There was also a female mannequin suffering from post-partum bleeding and an asthmatic child. Each student nursing team received a report from the virtual night nurse and from there had to work as a team to triage and care for the patients.

Linda Edwards, RN, MSN, teaches the Nursing Dimensions class that organized the virtual hospital exercise. Nursing Dimensions is a course for students in the final semester of their associate degree in nursing program and covers topics as varied as management styles, legislative activities, professionalism, and leadership.

“Some students did very well and some were just at a standstill and didn’t know what to do,” Edwards said of the exercise. “The students said, ‘It can’t be like this all the time!’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not, but there are nights like this when everyone has an urgent need and you have to decide how to prioritize it.’”

Following the virtual hospital exercise, each group took twenty to thirty minutes to debrief the experience. Professors talked with the students regarding the positive and negative aspects they observed and discussed solutions to problems.

“The debriefing was as important as the exercise itself,” Edwards said, “because it gave them the opportunity to identify their shortcomings, problem solve and ask questions. The students have expressed that they would like to do the exercise again and try different roles to see if they can improve their performance.

“The virtual hospital doesn’t take the place of a clinical experience, but it does expose students to real situations and they can gain more self-awareness and begin to identify their strengths and areas that need improvement,” Edwards explained. “Another advantage of working with the patient simulators is that scenarios can be specialized for individual students. I wish I had had some of these tools to practice with before I began working on real people.”

Edwards believes that nursing schools pool their resources whenever possible. Schools without patient simulators, for instance, should network with a nearby school that does. A balance for sharing resources should be arranged.

“That is the way nursing education needs to be going because every school can’t afford to have all the latest and greatest in the way of equipment. It makes sense that it is more cost effective for schools in close proximity of one another not to duplicate the most costly of the high tech teaching tools,” Edwards stated.

Regarding the virtual hospital exercise in which her students participated, Edwards said, “Role-play and simulators don’t take the place of reality but they are wonderful teaching aids.”