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Lifelike masks and body suits come alive as elderly patients for Health students


Sharlene King
18 February 2016
Hollywood-style silicon masks and body suits are being used by Southern Cross University as an innovative way to prepare students in the School of Health and Human Sciences to treat and interact with older patients.

Known as MaskED, the simulation props enable the development of unique characters. Staff in the School have so far developed six characters: three elderly women and three elderly men, including 80-year-old ‘Milly Banks’ and 76-year-old ‘Dan Tucker' who visit the University’s campuses to help train students.

The simulation has so far proven effective for nursing students. Now teaching staff in other University health disciplines, like occupational therapy, social work and speech pathology, are being introduced to ways in which MaskED characters could be incorporated into their curriculum in a series of roadshows at each of SCU’s campuses.

The University’s MaskED roadshow is at the Gold Coast campus on Thursday February 18, Lismore campus on Friday February 19 and Monday February 22 at the Coffs Harbour campus.

Crucial to the success of MaskED are the educators who volunteer to become a character – and remain in character until they unmask.

“Roleplay has been a teaching tool for a very long time. The mask and body suit takes roleplay one step further and enables the student to really see their teacher as a patient,” said Dr Louise Horstmanshof, the Simulated Learning Environment Project Leader in the School of Health and Human Sciences.

“MaskED provides students with an opportunity to develop and practice task-related skills without endangering patients, like putting in a drip or washing genitalia. Students also develop critical non-technical skills, what we call soft skills, such as learning to communicate with older people.”

Dr Horstmanshof said MaskED worked in conjunction with the students’ clinical placement opportunities.

“The School of Health and Human Sciences is being innovative in preparing professional entry students for work in the real world.

“Character and narrative development, including health history, is important and happens in real time, starting with first-year students when they meet patients like Dan or Milly for the first time. Everything that happens to Dan or Milly from then on becomes part of the students’ patient history.

“Our educators draw on their years of experience in the health sector to embody these characters. Each character has her or his own voice and mannerisms. The situation becomes believable because the patient responds naturally to the student and suddenly the student gets a huge psychological buy-in. Students learn best when they’re emotionally involved.”

Purchase of the MaskED props was made possible by funding from the now disestablished Work Healthforce Australia (HWA).

MaskED was originally developed by Professor Kerry Reid-Searl while teaching undergraduate nursing students at CQ University in Rockhampton.
Photo: In character, Andrew Woods and Fiona Lotherington from the School of Health and Human Sciences.