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Clinical Learning Center innovates in response to COVID-19

Even before UW-Eau Claire classes were suspended on March 13th due to the COVID-19 pandemic, assistant professor and director of the Clinical Learning Center, Megan Lagunas PhD, MEd, RN, CCRN, CHSE started to consider how virtual simulation could replace simulation experiences, clinical placement hours, and instruction. Social networks that Lagunas participates in have become an important place to discover how to provide labs, simulations, and clinicals in alternative formats. Lagunas noted, “One of the coolest things for me is that the sim world - shares. If  you have a question, you get a lot of responses from other simulation staff, who not only send you ideas, but basically say ‘here’s my stuff’ and share prep work, questions, and even faculty guides.”

The sharing and offering to help go both ways. Soon after the State of Emergency was declared, Lagunas saw a posting from Joanna Rostad-Hall, BSN, RN, Interim Director of Simulation, Center for Simulation Innovation, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Rostad-Hall was teaching a course entitled "Standardized Participants in Simulation."

In this course, students are trained to be standardized participants (SP) and portray patients, caregivers, and interdisciplinary team members in scenarios. Students enrolled in this course are often from healthcare programs (pre-nursing, nursing, pre-medical, social work, etc.) and already have a clinical background. Participating in simulations also allows students to engage in the debriefing process and build communications skills, such as how to provide constructive feedback. Students may also build a sense of empathy by exposing them to experiences and feelings that their patients or clients may have.

Rostad-Hill asked for suggestions on how she might be able to offer experiences for four of her students who still needed to complete hours. Lagunas quickly offered some suggestions and ended the conversation with, “If you can’t use them, I can!” The next day, Rogstad-Hill replied and the collaboration began.

Lagunas reached out to each University of Arkansas SP student to schedule sessions and provide scripts for their SP activities with UWEC nursing students. Using Collaborate Ultra, the campus video conferencing tool, SPs participated together with student nurses on a variety of clinical cases. In one example, photos of a mannaquin (elderly woman in hospital gown) was used with the voice of an SP. Students evaluated the SP and asked the patient questions, responded to the SP as the anxious patient, and provided discharge plans to the SP. Another example was an obstetrical simulation which used video and SPs acting as the laboring mom. Senior nursing students interacted with the laboring mom verbally and conducted post-partum screenings. The SPs also developed short videos for future use as prompts for the nursing program, such as dramatizing a parent calling a clinic with a question about a child. Students will be asked to watch the video and then consider how they should respond to the call. 


About the experience, stated, “One of the advantages of this ‘crash course’ in technology was that we got to interact with another university that we never would have otherwise and it allowed us to work together to meet all of our students’ needs.” From Blugold students, Lagunas received overwhelming positive feedback. They were appreciative of being able to work with human beings during a time of social distancing and interact with patients who did not have the familiar Midwest accent.

Assistant professor Dr. Theresa Dachel reported, "The standardized patients from the University of Arkansas, Little Rock were the silver lining during this pandemic allowing meaningful teaching and learning to continue. The opportunity allowed for graduate students to experience tele-health, which indeed may continue to play a huge role in future healthcare. Based on positive student feedback, I hope to continue utilizing virtual standardized patients in future DNP courses."

The ability to practice skills prior to a real-life situation has proven to be valuable in all areas of education and training. Standardized participant courses are a common offering at larger universities and are popular courses for pre-professional students across disciplines, including business, education, and law. Lagunas suggests that with the large number of pre-professional programs at UW-Eau Claire, it may be a course that would be of interest to students here.