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Nursing simulation lab helps future speech-language pathologists gain new skills

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Brittney Angeli (left) and Emma Knight, both communication sciences and disorders majors, talk with a “patient” during a simulation exercise in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Clinical Learning Center. The exercise was intended to give students a simulated experience working with patients in a medical center.

Brooke Anderson quickly did a language assessment of her newly admitted patient, working to determine her ability to speak after she had a stroke.

The speech-language pathologist shared her findings with a nurse, who was checking the patient’s blood sugar levels and completing a head-to-toe assessment. That done, together they determined their next steps, including what foods to give the patient to bring her blood sugar levels back to where they need to be.

Another day working on the neuro floor of a hospital?

Try another day of learning at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Thirty communication sciences and disorders students and 12 nursing students participated in the learning experience.

Thirty communication sciences and disorders students and 12 nursing students participated in the learning experience.

This spring, Anderson and several other communication sciences and disorders majors gained new skills and confidence working alongside nursing majors in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences’ simulation lab.

While the entire acute care aphasia case they were part of was simulated using the lab’s high-tech equipment, the knowledge and experience she gained from the exercise was real, says Anderson, a senior from Auburndale.

“My biggest takeaway was to be focused more on the patient than on my own role,” Anderson says of lessons learned through the simulation. “This was a new experience for me, and I found myself too focused on my own tasks. I realized I need to be more focused on patient needs and supporting them, and that comes with experience and comfort with doing these things.”

Anderson says she has only been in a hospital to visit family and friends, so being in a medical setting in a professional capacity was a new experience for her.

“It was extremely valuable,” Anderson says of the simulation. “For me, personally, I’ve never taken on the role of working with patients in a hospital. So, with this experience, I saw everything through a whole different lens by walking into the room as a speech-language pathologist. There were different assessments and tasks to do.”

It also was interesting to see the steps that the nursing students went through as they worked with the patient, Anderson says. She observed how the future nurse did her health checks and she was comfortable stepping in to help when there were communication breakdowns between nursing students and their patients, she says.

The whole experience is helping her better understand what her role might look like if she someday works as part of a care team in a medical setting, Anderson says.

Given the skills and insights Anderson and his other students gained through the simulation, Dr. Tom Sather, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, already considers the pilot project a great success.

Dr. Tom Sather, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, monitors his students during the simulation exercise.

Dr. Tom Sather, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, monitors his students during the simulation exercise.

“It’s really been great to use the sim lab to replicate medical experiences, use interdisciplinary collaborations and embed course content into the experience,” Sather says. “It also has been great for communication sciences and disorders and nursing faculty, staff and students to work together.”

To create the learning experience, Sather worked with Dr. Meg Lagunas, assistant professor of nursing and director of the Clinical Learning Lab; Ann Boberg, clinical instructor of nursing; and Dr. Gunnar Larson, associate director of the Clinical Learning Lab.

Together, they offered the simulation experience to more than 30 students enrolled in a communication sciences and disorders aphasia course, along with 12 nursing students as part of their clinical sequence.

During ordinary times, community members with aphasia would volunteer as hospital patients during the simulation, Sather says. Given COVID, simulated patients were used instead and all COVID precautions were followed.

Hopefully, Sather says, the success he’s had creating learning experiences for his students in the simulation lab will inspire other faculty outside of nursing to consider how they might use the on-campus resource in their teaching.

The Clinical Learning Center, located in the Nursing Building, includes four simulated hospital rooms equipped with audiovisual controls, a nursing station/debriefing center and 20 hospital bed spaces, as well as eight clinic rooms with audiovisual controls.

Like Anderson, the simulations were Carissa Phelps’ first experiences working as a speech therapist in a hospital setting. She was amazed that the simulated rooms so closely resembled an actual hospital room, says Phelps, a first-year communication sciences and disorders graduate student from Woodville.

The simulations were especially valuable since students have only been interacting with clients virtually for more than a year because of the pandemic, Phelps says. In a typical year, they would be gaining valuable experiences by interacting with patients face-to-face, she says.

“I had to think differently about the tasks I was asking my patient to do, whether it’s leaning over to point to the table or having them sit up,” Phelps says of being in a face-to-face setting. “There are so many things I don’t think about when looking at them online or when doing teletherapy. It’s different when you’re actually in the room.

“It was a  simulated experience, but it still felt real and different than online.”

Phelps, who earned her undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders from UW-Eau Claire in 2020, says the simulation experience is typical of the innovative ways faculty in the department create learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom.

“Even when I was an undergraduate student, I was working with clients or having other experiences,” Phelps says.

The simulation also was an important reminder that in her future career she will be part of a team of professionals providing various services to a client, Phelps says. Whether she works as a speech-language pathologist in a school, medical facility or some other setting, she will be collaborating with other professionals to meet her clients’ needs, she says.

“It was really cool to work with nursing students and see what they would do normally,” Phelps says. “In class, we’re focused on our role. But there always will be other team members. It’s good to know how to collaborate when a nurse or another professional comes in. It was cool to get to do that firsthand.”

Among the biggest lessons she took from the simulation is that she still has much to learn, Phelps says.

“Overall, this experience was amazing,” Phelps says. “A lot of the things I learned during this experience were things I wouldn’t have even known that I didn’t know. It was very exciting.”

The entire simulation was a fabulous learning experience, says Cayla Loy, a senior communication sciences and disorders major from Rochester, Minnesota.

Given COVID-19, she and other undergraduate students have not had much experience working in different therapy settings, Loy says. Their clients typically are in their homes and meet with them via teletherapy, she says.

“There are things about approaching patient care and interacting with patients that are hard to learn online or on paper so getting those in-person experiences are really valuable,” Loy says. “We also don’t have experience in hospitals or experience collaborating with nurses. Seeing how the process works and the kinds of questions the nurses ask and how we would work with them is helpful when trying to visualize what it would look like.

“I’m really thankful to collaborate with nursing students because I learned a lot about their major and working with them in this setting. It is all really great stuff and I’m happy to be part of it.”

The simulation exercises with the nursing students are exactly the kinds of experiences she was looking for when she transferred to UW-Eau Claire to study communication sciences and disorders, Loy says.

“I transferred because I wanted to be in a program like this one,” Loy says. “I wasn’t getting the experiences and all the resources I wanted where I was before. Coming here was a huge transformation. I had no idea the extent I could learn and opportunities I could have and I’m immensely grateful for everything I’ve been able to experience here.”