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Simulations give MNE nursing students unique understanding of mental illness

Monday, July 28, 2014

Randy Adams, 28, is a former National Guardsman with a wife and 18-month-old twin boys. He works part-time in a computer repair shop. Today, he awoke disoriented in the emergency room after a car accident, his mind still feeling the echoes of IEDs exploding in Iraq.

Oh, and more thing: Adams isn’t real.

He’s the main character in a new interpersonal simulation Mercyhurst North East students are using to practice providing nursing care for veterans. The simulation, authored by the National League for Nursing, is one of two new interactive exercises students in the Associate of Science in Nursing degree program are performing this summer to gain understanding of mental illness.

Tim Johnson, an adjunct instructor who is also a working nurse at the Erie VA Medical Center, plays the starring role of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“As state-of-the-art as our 3G SimMan mannequins are, it’s much more believable to the student to work with a real person for a mental health exercise,” said Brenda Snyder, ASN program director and instructor. “Many vets struggle with mental illness or PTSD when they come back from a war. We want our nurses to be well prepared to take care of our veterans when they graduate.”

During the PTSD simulation, interactive scripts introduce the nursing students to all phases of Adams’ medical journey, from his initial ER visit to follow-up appointments with a neurologist, behavioral health specialist and his family physician. They ask him questions, fill out his medial charts, review his concussion evaluation and more. Snyder said the exercise has received stellar reviews on post-class student evaluation forms.

“This is one of the best simulations we’ve had,” wrote one student. “The scenario and the experience were so real.”

Another mental health simulation the students performed earlier in the summer received equally high marks.  During the exercise, a nationally acclaimed training/curriculum titled “Hearing Voices That Are Distressing,” students listen to an MP3 recording on headphones that simulates the voices heard by those living with schizophrenia. Students go about normal daily activities – taking a walk, ordering lunch, having a conversation – with the voices in their headphones uttering anything from garbled language to screams to mild profanities.

The simulation, designed by Patricia E. Deegan, Ph.D., with the National Empowerment Center, is one of the most accurate immersions into the schizophrenic brain. Deegan, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, lives with a psychiatric disability that has caused her to hear distressing voices.

“The students were really shaken by it, especially knowing that some people can’t ever turn voices like that off,” Snyder said. “It gave them a whole new perspective on caring for and being empathetic toward their patients.”

This group of 40+ students enrolled in the part-time ASN program will graduate Dec. 19. The next part-time ASN classes start in January 2015, and the full-time ASN program begins Aug. 27. For more information, contact Brenda Snyder at 814-725-6256 or bsnyder@mercyhurst.edu.