Nurses work with IUP theater students to practice skills

A new course developed by an Indiana University of Pennsylvania Department of Theater and Dance professor may help play a role in creating more positive interactions between patients and nurses at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

IUP students acted as patients for the nurses during a three-hour workshop at IUP's nursing simulation laboratory. The object of the program was to help nurses develop their interpersonal skills to more effectively work with patients and families.

The workshop is an extension of faculty member April Daras's “The Performance of Caring” course. Daras developed the course after discussions with IUP Department of Nursing and Allied Health faculty.

“I found that there was no class being offered to help students work on their interpersonal patient care,” she said. The only simulations being offered were using mannequins, which are less effective in addressing communication skills.”

Theater Students Add Realism to Simulations

The course has included several simulations between the nursing and allied health and theater and dance departments, with very positive results, Daras said. “The nursing students really loved working with actors because they're real people.”

For the workshop with IRMC staff, student actors played patients in a variety of scenarios. IUP actors were taught improvisational acting techniques along with voice, body, and breathing awareness.

IRMC became interested in the simulations being conducted at the university last summer. Hospital representatives observed the simulations at IUP and immediately became interested in collaborating with the university to explore a similar training strategy for their nurses.

“They loved what they saw, so, for the last year, we've been working with them to figure out how we might bring this to the hospital for their nursing staff,” Daras said.

Delivering Discharge Instructions

The patient scenarios in the IRMC workshop all focused on the challenges of effectively delivering discharge instructions.

“The IRMC unit-based educators attending the workshop reported that some nurses do it well, while others can tend to make discharge too complicated for the patient by providing too much information,” Daras said.

IRMC Clinical Education and Prehospital Medicine Coordinator, Vickie Cressley, agreed that the workshop was very effective and something the hospital hopes to continue to do with IUP.

“I found the workshop with the theater department to be very useful. It was a good experience as a nurse to stand at the side and have the students act out a real patient-nurse scenario,” Cressley said. “I'm looking forward to more collaboration between IRMC and IUP in this way.”

Daras has worked with faculty in the IUP nursing department to create simulations in community health and psychiatric nursing as well as simulations for doctoral programs in educational psychology to help students learn how to counsel parents of special needs children.

As a result of her activity in applied theater activities, Daras received an Innovative Teaching Prize from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. An advocate of theater in service to the community, she is also a member of the Pittsburgh Playback Theatre company, a socially-conscious form of improvisational theater.

Applied Theater Finding New Audiences

“Simulation training falls under the umbrella of applied theater and is becoming more popular in a number of arenas,” IUP Theater and Dance Department Chairman Brian Jones said. Applied theater also includes theater for social change, such as “forum theater.” A scenario is played out in a forum-style of theater and then audience members not only get to discuss how the scenario might have been handled differently, but they get to direct the actors to try new strategies and test them out.

Success with applied theater and simulations is part of a larger plan IUP's Department of Theater and Dance has for the future, Jones said. The department is currently proposing and designing a graduate program in Devised, Ensemble, and Applied Theater, developing 21st century skills for artists who want to make a difference.

Photo: man in bed is IUP student Andre Briscoe, from Indiana, Pa.; person playing his wife, seated to left of bed is Maria Alexandrou from Indiana, Pa.; and standing in blue coat is IUP student Hannah Kate Simon from Blairsville, Pa.