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Nursing lecturers act as elderly patients to help student learning

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Wednesday February 11

Nursing staff are donning masks and costumes to take on the role of elderly patients so that students can cope with realistic cases in emergency situations.

Led by Debbie Roberts, Professor of Nurse Education and Clinical Learning at Glyndŵr University, the project has seen health lecturers explore and deliver innovative new teaching and learning methods.

As well as creating different scenarios, the division is using the Wrexham University’s cutting-edge education dome – the immersive learning environment – to teach the students a range of skills, such as how to diagnose symptoms in a lifelike setting.

More than £6,000 in funding from the Workforce Education Development Service (WEDS) has given the department licence to explore cutting-edge ways of teaching, as well as encouraging collaboration between academic divisions.

A fresh bid for further money has gone in to WEDS, and Professor Roberts believes the institution’s acclaimed suite of health degrees will continue to lead the pack in Wales.

“With the funding from WEDS we have been able to create different strands of learning resources to support a variety of programmes,” she said.

“We have produced a film on mental health issues, in association with Laundry Studios in Colwyn Bay, and have been able to develop ways of helping student nurses and advanced practitioners think about their interventions.

“Work such as developing realistic scenarios enables us to demonstrate immersive learning, involving all the senses, including the sights, sounds and smells of clinical practice which can be used as vital cues to a patient’s condition.

“These are aimed at numerous fields of practice including pre-registration nursing, occupational therapy, advanced practitioners and health visitors.”

Professor Roberts added: “The work we do with the dome is pioneering; it encourages learners to use all their senses as we can create visual and auditory hallucinations, feelings of  panic, distress and many other emotions that would be experienced by patients clinical practice.”

Senior lecturer Gill Truscott has gone to extra lengths to reinforce the reality, even dressing-up and taking on the role of ‘Alice’, a vulnerable pensioner in her seventies suffering with a painful leg ulcer and diabetes.

Showing characteristics of depression, isolation and anxiety, Alice lives alone and struggles to get around.

Taking all of these factors into account, the students are asked to manage each stage of her journey, from home, when she calls for an ambulance; to the hospital, where she eventually has surgery to amputate her leg due to the severity of the wound.

Known as Mask-Ed, the method was developed at CQ University in Australia and has been shown to improve students' theoretical knowledge, practical skills and confidence.

“This approach has worked well with different student groups, with some looking at communications, diagnostics, different tests and symptoms that relate to their chosen field, or the arena they hope to enter into in the future,” said Professor Roberts.

“These are issues that people in the health sector and social care face every day – can Alice look after herself and her affairs? Is she vulnerable and alone? Does she need to be admitted to the hospital or is she suffering in silence?

“It’s not just the physical side of care that we tackle, it’s the mental side as well.”

She added: “We have other scenarios, including the case of an elderly lady who has heart failure and a high alcohol intake following the death of her husband.

“These scenes were created using real life stories and the symptoms experienced by those with hallucinations or sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Early evaluations are very positive and indicate that students are more empathic to this patient population as a result of the immersive learning.”

Glyndŵr University’s immersive learning environment has proven to be a major selling point, with academics joining forces to utilise the facility for the benefit of degree and research programmes.

The institution’s computing and television and digital media teams have come up with a variety of ways to promote the dome, based at Techniquest Glyndŵr, including for digital media and psychology.

Nathan Roberts, a senior lecturer in Computing, has developed dozens of ideas that will allow students from across the University to see, touch, hear and even smell while they’re in the dome using technology, smoke, sound waves and a ‘smell-o-meter’.

They could even feel like they’re moving around the interior of the bubble thanks to an omnidirectional treadmill.

“We wanted to bring a more innovative approach to education and do that in partnership with other departments so we can all get the best out of it,” said Nathan.

“We are constantly coming up with new environments to make the best of the space.

“The technology is a huge draw, especially for computing students, but could add value to every department here at Glyndŵr University.”

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