By Eric Breier
Erica Schulteis knows first-hand the benefits of the simulation program used by Cal State San Marcos’ Speech-Language Pathology Department.
“It really builds your confidence,” said Erica, who will graduate from the SLP master’s program in May. “The simulations really help show us that we do have the necessary skills. We have what it takes to go out there and apply what we’ve learned in our classes. They want to show us through these simulations that we have no reason to doubt ourselves.”
The simulations are an example of the student-centered approach used by SLP, which has enlisted CSUSM’s School of Nursing for help in developing the simulations.
Deb Bennett, CSUSM’s nursing simulation director, has brought her expertise to SLP to aid in the development and execution of the simulations.
Bennett said simulation methodology is a case or scenario developed in a real-world situation that allows students to work with either a human actor or a high-fidelity mannequin to experience certain situations they might face in the real world.
“It’s a safe environment for them to learn,” Bennett said. “Students love it. They always want more, so we’re always looking at different ways that we can implement more simulations and more scenarios.”
Lori Heisler, the SLP department chair, said they want to integrate simulations across the entire curriculum. The simulations give students an opportunity to learn in a low-stakes environment while receiving immediate feedback that helps them learn from their mistakes.
“We’re there to help coach them through and help them through this learning environment before they have to go out in the real world,” Heisler said.
Count BreeAnn Montes Ayala among those who credit the simulation program for helping them thrive in the working world.
BreeAnn, who graduated from CSUSM last spring, is a speech-language pathologist for Escondido Union School District. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity and effectiveness of the simulations, also noting that it provided the opportunity to collaborate with other disciplines.
“Helping a student realize their fullest potential is a daily task and requires a team effort,” BreeAnn said. “I consider myself fortunate to have participated in this simulation as it was one of the most authentic experiences I have taken away from my graduate/academic career.”
Bennett said the simulation program is continuing to grow. She is training SLP faculty the process of writing cases for students to go through the simulations.
“The key is realism,” Bennett said. “We go in and say, ‘This is your client, this is your patient. Go in and take care of them.’ ”
The realistic representation of patients by the actors impressed Erica, particularly for a simulation in which actors portrayed patients with Parkinson’s disease. The actor with whom Erica and her partner worked never broke character, even exhibiting the trembling one might see from a Parkinson’s patient.
In a different simulation, students from the School of Nursing portrayed patients, which provided another excellent perspective for the SLP students. Erica noted that the language used to communicate varies widely depending on whether they’re speaking with a patient, parent, doctor or nurse.
Nursing students provided feedback after the simulation about the type of information nurses would want in a hospital setting, which proved invaluable to the SLP students.
“That really helped to prepare me for when I went into my hospital placements,” Erica said. “When I started talking to the nurses in the hospital, I wasn’t as nervous. When you’re in the medical setting, you have this sense of pressure on you. All the simulation experiences for the medical side was really helpful in relieving a lot of that pressure.”
Bennett and Heisler both noted that the simulation experience offers an important opportunity not only for SLP students, but for students in other areas such as nursing and social work to gain a greater understanding of everybody’s role in treating patients.
“You don’t work in a silo when you’re out in the real world,” Heisler said. “This is good for the students. We’re trying to really model the real-world experience of collaboration and inter-professional education because that’s what really happens in the school setting or the hospital setting.”