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Primary Education News
News Unmasked: a nursing lesson in disguise
For nursing professor Kerry Reid-Searl, simulation is as good as the real thing in teaching students and improving patient care
"I suit up and walk into the conference, get up on stage and start playing with the microphone. People in the audience are thinking: 'Who is this and what are we going to do with this poor old gentleman?' I start talking about my prostate problems and a recent incontinence conference I've been to – and then I peel off the mask."
Kerry Reid-Searl, associate professor and assistant dean at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at CQ University, Australia, has a habit of making people gasp, not least her students on their first day at university.
In 2008, she pioneered a teaching method called MASK-ED, a simulation technique that involves wearing silicone suits, including masks, torsos, hands and feet, to disguise her as a patient to nursing students. You've seen the film Mrs Doubtfire – this is as real as it gets.
Hidden behind her costume, Reid-Searl is able to introduce students to the realities of patient care in the safety of the classroom. And even when they become aware of her disguise, the characters are so convincing that students learn to treat them as they would on the ward.
A practising nurse with 30 years' experience, Reid-Searl spent years using props such as funny hats, glasses, a fat suit and even silicone buttocks in her teaching, but now believes a more serious approach to all this is needed. Disguising the teacher makes the situation more realistic, she says, building student confidence to practise those treatments they might find uncomfortable in real life.
Her current cast ranges in age, each character with their own specially designed case history and costume, costing between £1,500 and £3,000. Cyril Smith, born in 1932, is a retired butcher, first-aid guru and has a granddaughter studying to be a nurse. Muriel Monal Moore, born in 1930, is a retired matron who brings her past experience of nursing into the classroom.
Designed by a Halloween costume maker in America, Reid-Searl's outfits have everything from bladders and wounds to pubic hair, and can even be injected and catheterised. Historically, universities have used actors and mannequins to practise patient safety and treatments, but this approach allows for a more human response, she says.
"People say we can use actors, but one of the challenges with actors is that we have to do a lot of preparation with them, and they can't grab those teachable moments or navigate in the same way we can as experts hidden behind the prop."
"The characters are very real to me," she says. "I spend a lot of time refining them, practising the voice in the shower or while I'm driving. My kids see me and think I'm crazy, and my colleagues have described me as the Patch Adams of nursing."
Her pioneering design and pedagogy has won Reid-Searl a professorship, teaching awards and regular offers to speak at conferences, while these techniques are taught not only by her colleagues at CQU, but also by academics at six other Australian universities, several private health organisations and Colorado State University in the US. Reid-Searl is currently testing a new design of silicone puppets that will teach students how to treat children.
Does research back up her approach? A recent study found this form of simulation builds students' confidence and helps to prepare them for the reality of clinical practice. It also encourages them to look beyond the nursing textbook.
People are still challenged by the concept, says Reid-Searl: "Some see it as a stereotyping of certain age groups. But in fact, this is a strategy that promotes respect, regard and patient safety." And with rising concerns over patient care and taught curriculum for nursing students in the UK after the Francis report, how long will it be before this teaching technique is used in our universities?
Join us for an #HElivechat on the future of healthcare teaching on Friday 17 May from 12-2pm BST. Kerry Reid-Searl will also be speaking at the annual HEA health and social care conference on 5 June 2013 – more information here