In an emergency situation, teams of providers from healthcare, human services and education professions must quickly merge their skills and collaborate to help a patient in need. During the Interprofessional Education Simulation Day, students from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) experienced the fast-paced nature of a healthcare emergency first-hand and worked alongside students from other institutions to solve complex problems.

VTCSOM partnered with Carilion Clinic, Radford University Carilion and the Radford University Waldron College of Health and Human Services to host the event on Friday at the Carilion Clinic Center for Simulation, Research and Patient Safety in Roanoke. Around 118 students participated, with groups of 4-6 representing future medical doctors, physician assistants, registered nurses, social workers and respiratory therapists.

“The VTCSOM and RUC students already work closely in our HSSIP domain curriculum; this experience provides them a chance to put the principles they learn in class into action,” said Sarah Parker, the chair of Health Systems and Implementation Science at VTCSOM. “The value of different perspectives is put on display during a multidisciplinary simulation like this. I hope they take this experience as a foundation for building excellent interprofessional teams.”

Medical school student Allison Strauss talks with a patient alongside other students during an emergency simulation.
Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Allison Strauss (center) talks with a patient of a simulated motor vehicle accident to help assess his injuries.

Health Systems Science and Interprofessional Practice is one of the four domains at VTCSOM, integrated into all four years of medical school. Students learn to work with teams of healthcare professionals from a variety of disciplines to deliver high-quality patient care.

During simulation day, each team was tasked with taking care of a patient in the emergency department of the local hospital. The students were instructed not to try to “win” the simulation by figuring out what was wrong with the patient and how to fix it, but to win by working together as a team to provide appropriate patient care and education.

“Our team had a motor vehicle accident where our patient had some rib injuries, a pneumothorax in his right lung, and we had to work our way through the steps that we would use to stabilize him and medically manage him,” said Allison Strauss a 3rd Year VTCSOM student who is also part of the Parker Lab at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. 

Medical school students Michael Spinosa and Allison Strauss confer while making a phone call to discuss a patient during an emergency simulation on Friday, April 22, 2022.
Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine students Michael Spinosa and Allison Strauss confer on a phone call to discuss a patient's injuries during the Interprofessional Education Simulation Day.

As patients came in, the student teams had to assign roles and find the best ways to care for the patients. Michael Spinosa, a 3rd Year VTCSOM student, said communication was a challenge the teams had to overcome at first, but they quickly figured out how to work alongside each other.

“It was really good experience,” Spinosa said. “Having all the people there teaching us, physicians and nursing staff and others, gave us great pointers on how to deal with a disaster and how to best take care of our patients.”

Parker said this opportunity for VTCSOM students to learn about collaboration would not be possible without collaboration among outstanding institutional partners Carilion Clinic, RUC and Radford University. She also recognized the leadership and student guidance of Drs. Paul Stromberg and Andrew Moore (Emergency medicine) and Dr. Natalie Karp (co-director of VTCSOM HSSIP domain).

“The Center for Simulation has been working throughout the pandemic to offer hands-on and virtual training options. However, this is the first time the team has been able to work with a large interprofessional group of medical students in over two years!” Parker said. “Research has repeatedly shown the benefits of simulation for learning hands-on skills, and the skills of teamwork and communication are no different. Through partnerships with clinicians and RUC, the VTCSOM students have the good fortune to be able to practice those skills and then talk about them with experienced clinicians, creating an excellent learning experience.”