Nursing students train on mental health crises supports

It was a day filled with difficult conversations, intense moments and endless learning opportunities.

As part of their core mental health education, Brock’s first cohort of concurrent Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing (BN/MN) students participated in a Mental Health Assessment Simulation Jan. 20 in the University’s Nursing Simulation Lab,

A trained actor from McMaster University’s Standardized Patient Program — Niagara Region simulated a client experiencing depression and suicidal ideation, and interacted with the Brock Nursing students during the assessment.

The simulation was intended to help prepare students for their upcoming clinical rotations in acute in-patient mental health. Brock Nursing students are trained to assess and support patients experiencing mental health crises in various practice settings.

Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing students sit at a table looking in the same direction while a professor stands looking on in the background.

Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing students (from left) Joy Fadase, Emma Brooks, Sarah Cowan and Anna Piorczynski observe the Mental Health Assessment Simulation while Department of Nursing Assistant Professor Kathryn Halverson looks on in the background.

“The standardized patient realistically portrayed an acute mental health scenario that a patient would present with,” says Nursing Simulation Lab Manager Shelley Wills. “Our BN/MN students were able to conduct an assessment to identify risk factors for patient suicide, self-harm and self-injury in a safe learning environment.”

Prior to the simulation, students received in-class preparation from Department of Nursing Assistant Professor and Registered Nurse Kathryn Halverson. They also learned about key demographic groups with higher risk factors for suicide and explored various community resources, including supports available to them as Brock students.

“The day before, students participated in a virtual simulation with interactive decision-making points,” says Halverson. This led to group discussions about safety, care planning, collaboration and community resources.

Brock’s Department of Nursing runs several simulations each academic term for all years of the undergraduate program and throughout each term of the BN/MN program. Some are smaller scale lab activities, and some involve larger co-ordinated efforts that engage alumni and community partners.

“Overall, what you witness are students having the opportunity to observe, participate and debrief their experiences, which is exactly what learning is — hearing, seeing, doing and reflecting back,” says Wills. “We provide our students with true-to-life scenarios where they can gain exposure and experience, giving them the tools to use new skills in their clinical practicum area.”

Nursing student Kodi Wright sits in a clinical setting facing a second person whose back is shown.

Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing student Kodi Wright (left) practices communication, interview, diagnostic and clinical skills as she assesses the ‘standardized patient’ as part of the Mental Health Assessment Simulation.

In last month’s simulation, students took turns interacting with the ‘patient’ to gain experience as the primary nurse, navigating very difficult conversations. This differs from other simulations that see students assigned specific roles to fulfil.

“We definitely see students’ level of engagement grow and develop over the course of the programs,” says Wills. “The important lesson is that it is OK to make mistakes in these controlled environments — that is what they are for. I always tell students if you are not making mistakes in the simulation lab, you are not learning as much, because mistakes are part of learning.”

Following simulations, students often express feeling more prepared for their upcoming clinical rotations.

After the recent mental health simulation, students recognized there can be tensions between their own need to gather information for assessments, and the need to spend more time listening to the patient as they express feelings such as grief, loss, isolation and despair.

“The BN/MN students have professional and academic experience that has contributed to an increased level of comfort and confidence having difficult conversations,” says Halverson. “This simulation provided students with extensive lab practice in mental health assessment skills and communication focused on caring for someone in need of compassion, safety and support.”

The first cohort of concurrent Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing students in their nursing scrubs with Brock Nursing faculty and staff.

The first cohort of concurrent Bachelor of Nursing/Master of Nursing students pose with Brock Nursing faculty and staff who support their learning prior to the Mental Health Assessment Simulation.

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