UNCG Campus Weekly

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Collaborative simulations in schools of Nursing, Education

Rutherford-Hemming and Wheeler (l-r) in Simulation Lab

Communication is everything. The biggest things we learn come from our mistakes. We’re all in this together.

Those three mantras are behind a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between Specialized Education Services’ Sarah Wheeler and the School of Nursing’s Dr. Tonya Rutherford-Hemming.

Wheeler teaches in UNCG’s Professions in Deafness program in the School of Education and,  within the Interpreter Preparation concentration, she helps students develop their skills in American Sign Language / English interpretation in order to provide communication access to deaf people in a variety of contexts. She is a CODA, a child of deaf adults, and has always been aware of the importance of effective communication and cultural competence within the lives of deaf people. She interprets in a wide variety of public events such as music festivals, speaker series and theatrical performances, and in everyday situations such as medical appointments and job interviews.

Wheeler is also an Air Force veteran who worked in health care administration, which she says translates to her work with the deaf community and in the professions in deafness program.

“Part of an airman’s creed is never to leave anyone behind. For me, that carries over to the accountability each student should have to themselves as well as to their fellow students,” she said.

Last year, Wheeler received a Strategic Seed grant for the development of her Disability in Global Contexts course.

Rutherford-Hemming, clinical associate professor in the Department of Adult Health, designs and facilitates many UNCG nursing simulations, in which students practice the procedures they will enact as licensed nurses. In many of these simulations, individuals from the community play the role of the patient, and students can prepare themselves for real-life clinical experiences.

Rutherford-Hemming also received a Strategic Seed grant in 2016, to create a homeless nursing simulation, where actors played the homeless individuals and were treated just outside the Moore Nursing Building. The students providing nursing care were expected to negotiate challenges that could come with working with people who are homeless.

Most recently, Rutherford-Hemming received an Advancement in Teaching and Learning grant to design multicultural simulations. In that simulation, the patient will be a young Islamic female who wears hijab, and who may observe cultural practices that require specific accommodations. Rutherford-Hemming is also at work on an additional simulation for treating non-English speakers.

“Communication is huge in any profession,” she said. “But with nursing, if I can talk to the person, that’s a tremendous part of it. Nurses are often the hub of communication between patients, families and the health care team.”

Last summer, Wheeler and Rutherford-Hemming began planning their collaborative work. This past spring semester, they led two simulations with four nursing students and four professions in deafness students in each session, with a deaf individual playing the role of the patient. The nursing students were not aware that the patients would be deaf, or that there would be an interpreter, until they received the pre-briefing report, which is how it would be in a hospital setting, explained Rutherford-Hemming. When the simulation started, they had the opportunity to ask a few questions, and then they entered the room to begin treating the patient and working with the interpreter. The experience provided an opportunity for problem-solving, allowing students from both programs to meet their learning objectives and to practice patient-centered care.

“We want our students to take risks, make mistakes, talk about why they did what they did and to learn from their experiences,” said Wheeler.

After the simulations, the nursing students, the professions in deafness students and the member of the deaf community who played the patient discussed what happened in a debriefing, a conversation in which they go over decisions they made during the simulation.

“And that’s the biggest part,” explained Rutherford-Hemming. “That’s where the learning takes place. We ask them what was challenging, and they start talking—it’s getting them to reflect and talk to each other, and that’s when the light bulbs start to go off.”

According to Rutherford-Hemming, interprofessional collaboration is an absolute necessity in facilitating patient care.

“When there’s a patient in the room, we’re all working together,” she said. “Sign language interpreters are part of the health care team, so this helps bring in that interprofessional piece.”

“We’re all together,” agreed Wheeler. “And these transformative learning experiences can have a huge impact on the way a deaf patient experiences and accesses the health care system.”

By Susan Kirby-Smith
Photograph by Susan Kirby-Smith