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Actors play new role in mental health nursing education

The Pilot Team: Tan Tran, Haidee White,
Fiona Orr, Jane Stein-Parbury, Michelle Kelly

It’s rare to hear of someone being asked to feign mental health problems, but that’s what UTS nursing academics Fiona Orr, Jane Stein-Parbury and Michelle Kelly are doing. Sparked by industry and community need for greater capability in mental health assessment and therapeutic communication skills, the project team has just completed a pilot of a live simulation program that used professional actors to simulate mental health consumers using prepared assessment scenarios.

According to lead investigator and mental health nursing academic Fiona Orr, the aim of the pilot was to provide a high fidelity learning experience to postgraduate nursing students specialising in mental health.

“The benefit of standardised patients has been known for some time and used to a high degree in medical courses. As ‘standardised patients’, the actors rehearsed with mental health nurse academics prior to performing with students so that the scenarios were as realistic as possible. The assessments were also digitally filmed so that students had the opportunity to review and critique their skills“.

Investigators Kelly, Orr and Stein-Parbury
prepare a scenario

Professor of Mental Health Nursing, Jane Stein-Parbury, said that students behaved differently with actors than in role plays with fellow students and benefited from the experience.

"It puts students under the same pressure they feel at work. In these simulations they don’t have the preconceived ideas that they would role playing the same scenario with a fellow student. The actors are unknown to the students and won't go easy if they see students struggling."

"Students love that it's a more realistic way to practice complicated and difficult skills."

When asked about their experience immediately after the live simulation, the students were overwhelmingly positive, with a number commenting that it felt like a real-life situation. One student recorded, “This sim(ulation) makes you stop and think. You are not just observing but you’re assessing on the spot and I think any student would be lucky to have this sim(ulation) in their course. Another said,"It was just brilliant. It has stretched me and I'm sure that it will have an impact on my clinical work."

A post-grad nursing student is filmed
assessing her "patient"

With results like these, Fiona Orr is looking forward to incorporating the simulation as a teaching and learning strategy across all UTS mental health nursing courses.

"For us, live simulation is a beneficial teaching strategy to create realism and emotional pressure. It provides a great opportunity to increase nursing students' confidence to communicate therapeutically."

The pilot was a result of collaboration between the Faculty and the Actors Centre facilitated by Michelle Kelly and complements the range of simulation activities the Faculty are offering across curricula. Live simulation will be considered for inclusion in the postgraduate Mental Health Nursing curricula from 2012.

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