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Bay Path University, Western New England University, and Springfield Technical Community College Host Interprofessional, Interinstitutional Simulation Program

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Healthcare professionals across the disciplines agree: when working together collaboratively, patient outcomes are greater. It’s this philosophy that sparked the development of an immersive patient care simulation for students of the applied health sciences at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), Western New England University (WNEU), and Bay Path University (BPU).

“The academic institutions providing health professions education in the Pioneer Valley have embraced interprofessional education,” Beth Welch, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Western New England University, president of the Pioneer Valley Interprofessional Education Collaborative, said. “Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has been fortunate to have a great partnership with Bay Path University and Springfield Technical Community College. Holding this second Interinstitutional, Interprofessional Sim Program, the first being in 2015, was a wonderful success. Bringing students from pharmacy, occupational therapy, physician assistant studies, and nursing together to work as a team in a realistic simulated patient care scenario adds to the robustness of each program and helps to prepare our future healthcare practitioners for collaborative practice.”

Cohorts from the three partner institutions, totaling nearly 180 participants, convened at Bay Path University’s Longmeadow campus for the first of a two-day immersion in interprofessional education, hosted by Bay Path’s physician assistant (PA) program. Joined by pharmacy and occupational therapy (OT) students from WNEU and STCC nursing students, the orientation to interprofessional education prepared them to work in teams the following day.

During the session, the students met in their interprofessional groups for a tabletop exercise, during which they received information about the patient they would be working to treat on Wednesday, read through the case as a team, established ground rules, and created patient care plans.

Welch addressed the students at the kick-off orientation, expressing the importance of the experience:

“When you work together as a team, you improve patient outcomes. Not only do you do so, you do so at a reduced cost, and you do so with more improved job satisfaction. Healthcare in the US is moving towards team-based care, strengthening the system through collaborative practice. That’s why interprofessional education and learning how to practice as a team will fill the work supply with people who know how to collaborate and provide team-based care.”  

The following day, students were split across two sites: half participated in an ambulatory care patient simulation at WNEU, and the remainder completed an acute care simulation at STCC. Those working at WNEU performed the simulation on a live, professional patient, while students at STCC worked on a specialized mannequin, complete with variable vitals and realistic wounds, and instructors gave the patient a “voice” through an intercom. Ambulatory care simulation teams included PA, nursing, OT, clinic pharmacist, and community pharmacist students. Acute care teams were comprised of PA, nursing, and clinical pharmacist students.

They set out with three big goals for the simulation: gain clarity of the different practitioner roles; formulate collaborative communication skills; and identify, break down, and resolve any misconceptions about specific practitioner roles. Overall, administrators hoped the students would come away with a greater understanding of how to function as a member of an interprofessional team, able to recognize and utilize the resources and expertise of other individuals. According to participating students, those goals were met with confidence.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to explore a more holistic approach to patient care,” Nisha Malik G’19, a Bay Path University PA student, said. “Working together with different health care professionals during the simulation gave me a chance to observe the roles we will all have, and to begin to feel more comfortable in the role I will occupy myself. One thing that this exercise highlighted for me the importance of communication, both between healthcare professionals and between providers and patients.”

Shannon Spurrell, an occupational therapy student at WNEU, agreed with Malik.

“Personally, I always thought that I was one to take the lead in a group setting, but this event reminded me to sit back and allow others to step up and take charge, which gave me an opportunity to observe and understand each professional stance and how each individual thinks,” Spurrell said. “Overall, this “real life” experience allowed everyone to collaborate with each other and step up when their area of specialty is needed. Communication is key, and through this experience, we were able to practice that.”

After the simulations, students received feedback from faculty and professional patients on their individual roles as well as how they worked together as a group, with a specific focus on their successes and areas for improvement. The debrief emphasized one major takeaway: the importance of maintaining open communication, including knowing your role and how to relay what you’re doing to others. Students found that they were able to actively recognize areas of overlapping knowledge with the other professions, while also recognizing their own purpose.

Theresa Riethle, MS, PA-C, Program Director, Associate Professor for Bay Path University’s Physician Assistant Program, closed a morning simulation session by reminding students, “Everything is our job. In a team setting, you’re going to do things that maybe aren’t traditionally your role, but that’s how a team works and that’s how you’ll get things done. Don’t forget that.”