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APSU students go beyond the classroom with cross-disciplinary healthcare simulations

By: Ethan Steinquest November 17, 2023

APSU students collaborate on an interprofessional simulation.
APSU students partner on an interprofessional simulation. | Photo by Ally Shemwell

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University’s nursing, business and communication students came together on Wednesday, Nov. 15, for an innovative simulation focused on navigating difficult conversations in healthcare administration.

The collaborative training provided real-world experiences for students, allowing them to apply critical skills like conflict resolution, empathy and strategic communication to complex scenarios they may face after graduation.

“I think there’s an art and a science to leading and managing, and the art piece is about empathy,” said Dr. Adrienne Wilk, assistant professor of nursing. “The students had to show empathy and compassion throughout the scenarios we simulated, but they also had to have a managerial mindset about whether they followed policy.”

Three scenarios were designed for the exercise: disclosing a medication error to a patient and their family, receiving a sexual harassment claim and firing an employee due to their job performance.

“I think today’s simulations allowed us to practice our empathy and communication skills, and also helped us learn to advocate for ourselves in a professional setting,” said senior nursing major Rachael Nelson. “Having experienced this today, even in a simulated version, will allow me to act more professionally should I ever encounter these situations and have a frame of reference on how to respond appropriately.”

Senior business administration major Kayla Christianson Marmolejo said the simulation was especially valuable because it brought together students from different disciplines.

“We have a lot of discussions in class, but to have people from outside our field interacting with us helps us gain different perspectives,” she said. “I feel like I also gained some confidence from this because I’m a veteran, and I’ve had interactions where I needed to know policy to help someone out. In one of the exercises, I took on the role of an HR manager, and it was good to know I still have the confidence to help someone through a tough situation.”

Lauren Post, an adjunct faculty member of Austin Peay’s School of Nursing, said each exercise was designed to be relevant to all students who participated. The group included senior nursing majors, assistant professor Dr. Matthew Farrell’s business students and instructor Mike Dunn’s communication students.

“We wanted to have a communication student in each scenario to observe the verbal and nonverbal communication,” Post said. “That way, they could provide input during the debrief about what they saw and what they thought went well, and discuss what both the nursing and business students could improve on.”

Sophomore corporate communications major Destiny James said sitting in on the conversations was a valuable experience that also tied directly into her plans to attend law school. 

“It’s helpful to see how different people communicate in the real world because I feel like as a college student, we don’t have a lot of that real-world experience,” she said. “And it was also good for me to be able to see all sides of an argument play out during the simulations.”

Wilk said the School of Nursing plans to continue working with other departments to host interprofessional training exercises, and that feedback from the students has been overwhelmingly positive since the project began last semester.

“We can teach and learn in a silo all we want, but we know that’s not how things operate when our students get out in the real world,” Wilk said. “You have to collaborate no matter what industry you’re in … and our students like getting out of their comfort zones, teaming up with other departments and learning from one another.”