Interprofessional simulations: bringing social work and nursing students together

In a collaborative simulation, two MSW students attend to a family member while the nursing students deliver emergency care to the patient.
The Institute of Medicine and other patient safety groups have identified that miscommunication and lack of team collaboration are often the cause of medical errors. To prevent these errors, health professions educators are being urged to consider teaching undergraduate and graduate students from different professions together.

This educational collaboration is called Interprofessional Education (IPE).

Rhode Island College has begun a collaborative project by bringing nursing and social work students together in the School of Nursing’s Simulation Center. The patients (mannequins that are simulated using a computer) and their family members (played by trained actors) in the simulation have physical and emotional components to the presenting crises. Nurses and social workers attend to the patient and their family members in a coordinated manner. All of this professional activity is videotaped. Students and faculty then sit down to watch and debrief.

Judy Murphy, left, and Jayashree Nimmagadda.
In addition, as the responsible faculty, we have added a research component to the project. The Institutional Review Board at RIC approved this pilot project, involving IPE simulations. The Readiness for Interprofessional Learning Scale is administered before and after the simulation using Survey Monkey. In addition, field notes are transcribed both during the simulation and during the debriefing.

We are hoping to analyze this data over the next two months to see what gains students have made through these exercises.

Last summer, we ran a few simulations with junior-level nursing students and found that since simulation was so new to them, they were not ready for the complexity of an interprofessional simulation.

We are now conducting IPE simulations with senior-level nursing students and graduate social work students. Students at this level have developed a level of confidence in their knowledge and skills, and recognize the need for good communications between professions.

Stephen Godbout, one of the nursing students who participated in the simulation this summer, related that he felt much more comfortable working with the social workers at the senior level. He valued their insights and really felt that he learned much more from this simulation.

Students from different professions who learn together will understand each member’s role and develop trust and respect for the different perspective that each profession brings when providing patient care.

Photo gallery

Quotes from students who participated in the simulation exercises:

“I think it's an excellent idea to have MSW and nursing students work together while they are in school. It's reflective of what we will experience once we graduate. The simulations are providing an opportunity in which to develop our interprofessional communication skills, which will ultimately benefit our clients.”
– Angela Stupinski, second-year MSW student

“Interprofessional exercises like this are a safe way to practice crisis management as a team. As clinical [social work] interns we are constantly being/participating in self-reflection to improve skills. This was a way to do that with immediate feedback as well as the more real-world conditions of working with other professionals.”
– Lise Bissonnette, second-year MSW student

“My first thought was just how impressive the nursing lab is. The level of technology available to nursing students for simulation purposes is really exciting. Also, I felt that the simulation definitely provided a realistic representation of one aspect of a social worker's role in the working world, and especially the importance of understanding and connecting with other professional disciplines to effectively work together to deliver the best care for clients and their families. This was definitely a beneficial learning experience. Thanks for this opportunity.”
– Betty Casazza, second-year MSW student

"The interprofessional simulation allows students to explore how professionals from two different disciplines are able to communicate and work together to provide quality care for their patients. Students are encouraged to jump in with both feet and utilize skills that they have learned in their coursework thus far. The environment is safe and non-judgmental and students feel empowered to explore their skills with the actors and other students."
– Tanya Medeiros second-year MSW student

“How important the social worker job is for us as nurses. Your being here gave us an opportunity to do what we had to do.”
– Doreen Tudino, nursing student

“I didn’t know what the role of the social worker was before today. Now I know how they can help me.”
– Stacy Reis, nursing student