Nursing School “Gets Real” with Use of Standardized Patients

Thursday, May 15, 2014

This past semester, students in the UNCW School of Nursing had the use of Standardized Patients (SPs) expanded into their curriculum. SPs are volunteers who act in the role of a patient to simulate a real-life problem and/or real patient symptoms. 

In the past, SPs were only used to simulate home visits in the apartment lab of the Simulation Learning Center to prepare community health students for an actual home visit. In spring 2014, other courses engaged the use of SPs for the first time. 

Nurse practitioner students interviewed an SP couple who came to their class in order to assess their cognitive status, depression risk, fall risk and other health issues. Geriatric nursing students used an SP each week in the apartment lab to simulate a fall in patient's "home" when they arrived to carry out a safety assessment.

Senior students taking a nursing leadership course were all given a simulation hospital scenario where an SP portrayed a “disgruntled patient” who complained no one had come to help her during the night shift and she had fallen.  This simulation was the first of its kind and required the students to work as a team in roles such as nurse manager, charge nurse, new graduate nurse, and the night nurse reporting off duty. They had to prioritize care and delegate appropriately. The “patient” gave the students feedback at the conclusion of the scenario about her perception of their “care” and how they handled the situation overall.

The role of SPs has extended into other schools and programs in the UNCW College of Health and Human Services. The School of Social Work and sports medicine both incorporated SPs into select courses during the 2013-14 academic year.

“Student feedback regarding the use of real patient actors has been overwhelmingly positive in all of these courses,” says Robin P. Cunningham, Simulation Learning Center Coordinator. “The SP actors express that they enjoy helping the students learn in the different scenarios. The Spring 2014 semester use of SPs totaled approximately 200 hours - more than double past semester totals.”

The School of Nursing held a luncheon to thank those who participated in the role of SPs. Many confirmed that they want to continue to volunteer and enhance student learning through simulation.