Imagine an explosion just took place on the campus of Western Carolina University. Picture it occurring at the soon-to-be replaced Natural Sciences Building, if you like.
What would you do?
That’s the scenario junior and senior students from the School of Nursing, the Emergency Medical Care Program and the Department of Social Work recently faced while participating in a mass casualty drill at the Health and Human Sciences Building.
It’s a drill the nursing and EMC students have taken part in for several semesters, but this was the first time social work students were included.
The drill began with junior nursing students dressed and acting as if they were victims of the explosion. The “actors” ranged from being deceased, to those with minor injuries, and to bystanders.
“I’m supposed to be a disoriented patient,” said Anna Norris, a junior nursing major from Fayetteville. “I get to act and be crazy and fake cry. It’s going to be really exciting.”
Junior Chelsea Mosley, a nursing major from Hot Springs, was playing an unresponsive patient with closed head trauma. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they figure it out,” Morley said.
Three-person triage teams consisting of two senior nursing students and one EMC student evaluated the patients to decide their transport priority. Those given a black card were deceased. Red meant the patient needed to be transported immediately while yellow was for delayed transport. Green meant the patient had minor injuries.
“(Nurses) don’t see (mass casualty situations) all the time,” said WCU School of Nursing assistant professor David Wells. “When we’re able to simulate, we’re able to at least get an appreciation for what happens. Other than getting out there and really doing it, this is the best way to do it.”
Social work students observed and evaluated the interaction between the nursing and EMC students with the patients and bystanders.
In another room, deemed incident command, a group of nursing and EMC students decided what jobs were assigned. From there, they decided where to direct each patient as they came in based on their color-coded card.
“They actually have to make some decisions,” said Colleen Hayes, a School of Nursing assistant professor. “When nurses go out into hospitals, hospitals have drills like this at least once a year. It gives them a little idea of what happens in a drill. I think it’s good that they see the EMC side and work with them.”
Chandler Spires, a junior EMC student from Hillsborough, said the drill allowed students to have a real-world application.
“This isn’t something you see very often, but when you do, you want to be really ready,” Spires said. “It’s really nice to bring emergency medical care and nursing together so we can really learn how to work together so we don’t just know our own camp, we know how the whole system works.”
Finally, the social work students provided critical incident stress debriefing for the care providers. Denise Wilfong, director of the Emergency Medical Care program, said that debriefing is imperative.
“We’re unbelievably excited to have the social work students,” Wilfong said. “It’s an element you don’t see very often. I’ve never actually seen that in a scenario where social workers have been included, but it’s so important. Social workers were at Hurricane Katrina counseling. It’s like they’re the perfect last side to this triangle of groups.
“Interprofessional education has become so important in all of these medical fields. We’re trying to get as many programs working together because students are going to be working together out in the field. If we can get them started here, and learning how to work as a team, and learning what each of the other programs do and their role of importance in this, and how we can better function, they’re going to be able to function better once they get out working in the field,” she said.
Judy Robinson, assistant professor of social work and director of field education, was also glad to see her students involved in the drill.
“They’re really paying attention to the emotional things that are going on with the patients, and trying to make them feel like there’s someone with them, even though they feel really scared and even hysterical,” Robinson said.
“We’re even going to try and ask things like, ‘Do you need us to call somebody for you?’ I saw one of our students pretending to get out their cell phone and call somebody’s spouse or mother. At the end of the exercise, they’re going to do some debriefing to see how (the nursing and EMC students) might be affected in terms of trauma as having been first responders,” she said.
Senior social work major Caroline Pierce of Hickory said she currently works in a group home, but that paled in comparison to the mass casualty drill.
“I think it’s a really good learning experience, definitely for social workers because we can work in all types of different areas,” Pierce said. “It’s a really good learning opportunity.”
By Marlon W. Morgan