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SIM Practice Makes Perfect

Francesca Wojcik, B.A. '23 | March 28, 2022

SIM Practice Makes Perfect

This might sound like the opening plot to a fictional movie thriller, but the simulation lab is part of Marian University's College of Osteopathic Medicine. It opened in 2013, the same year the medical school opened. The lab was established to help medical and nursing students practice their skills with patient actors, also called Standardized Patients, to better enable the students to treat real patients after graduation. Medical schools across the country use simulation labs to prepare their med students and nurses because this kind of lab allows them to do hands-on learning in a safe and monitored setting that looks like a real hospital or exam room. The "patients" are paid actors.

David Patterson is the Director of Marian's Hill-Rom Simulation Center. He has been in this field for more than twenty years. His experience is extensive and includes all facets of the field from design and development to construction of four simulation labs. He's also consulted with other universities that built labs for their programs. The simulation labs have been immensely successful in helping train future doctors and nurses in the field. Marian's SIM lab is built into its medical program.

In the past, the SIM lab was usually reserved exclusively for medical students, but fortunately, David Patterson is on the cutting edge of science and now includes Marian's counseling students, as well. While the benefits of the lab's success for counseling student trainees are still in its early research stage, hopes are high that it will become an essential tool for counseling student trainees just like it is for their fellow medical students.

As is typical for most graduate counseling programs, students learn counseling skills by practicing with each other, in peer-to-peer dyads. But in the last couple of years, the SIM lab began incorporating counseling student trainees into its program as a way to enhance their skills, counseling in an exam room environment. Counseling student trainees' sessions are recorded allowing them to study their recordings which helps perfect their skills. Frank Carr, Ph.D. an assistant professor of counseling at Marian teaches the graduate-level counseling skills course. Recently, Dr. Carr enhanced skill training by adding Standardized Patients to the course.

Dr. Carr said the actors participating in the SIM lab simulations are local. The actors are given rough ideas of possible symptoms as patients, and the counselor then works from that. Dr. Carr noted that in the future actors may be given even more direction in order to help students with real counseling sessions. The actor at the end of the session can give feedback. Dr. Carr also said actors are beneficial because, usually, peers want to help the counselors out so the counselors can get it right.

Nicole Deyoung

Nicole Deyoung, a first-year mental health counseling student said, “I was the most jittery about working with an actor because I had no idea what to expect. It was an interesting experience because I thought that the actor would have an entire back story ready to go. It was a good experience to work with someone other than our peers and made it feel a little bit more like 'real' life.”

While actors are a significant way for students to learn their skills before heading out to the real world, one of the most beneficial aspects of the SIM Lab is the ability to record sessions. Then professionals such as Dr. Carr and Dr. Marla Smith, Director of Counseling Services at Marian University, and even classmates may watch the recordings. “The students can go back to watch their session. Watching yourself do therapy, critiquing it, and reflecting on your performance are ways to enhance counseling skills,” said Dr. Carr. Imagine a counseling student doing therapy with a patient and also trying to analyze her or his own performance at the same time. Recording the session allows the student to stay in the moment. Students can catch things they may not realize they are doing. They might notice that they say "umm" too much or may have smiled at an inappropriate time. Students may also find they missed a nonverbal cue from a client. The video shows students what they need to work on in therapy such as the amount of silence used in the session or that the student counselor isn't reflecting the client's feelings enough. The video shows what techniques need work and what the student is doing well. It's a comprehensive learning exercise to make better clinicians.

“I was able to practice some of the skills we learned in class. It was very helpful to watch the videos. I was able to identify things to work on after each session. I was able to observe my progress throughout the semester and compare my first session to my last session,” said Nicole Deyoung. She went on to say, "The Sim Lab was very beneficial! It developed my listening skills and attending behaviors. It also helped alleviate some of my nerves about seeing my first real client.”

Dr. Carr is always trying to enhance and improve the experience to help his students. He's looking to the future, and one of his goals is to research the effectiveness of using actors for counseling students. For example, "How does using actors contribute to skill development?" and "does using an actor enhance counseling student trainee skill self-efficacy?" There is not a lot of research done in this area of counseling training. Furthermore, Dr. Carr would like to see counseling student trainees partner with medical students, nursing students, and social work students on cross-disciplinary training exercises. An example of a cross-training exercise is  a "warm handoff." In the healthcare world, a "warm handoff" is a transfer of care between healthcare providers which happens in person and in real-time.  

Everyone agrees the Simulation Lab benefits Marian University's counseling department. Its wonderful staff is committed to all the students who use it as an important tool to learn and develop and perfect the skills they will need for the future patients who will need their help. Practice, er, simulation makes perfect.  

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