TTUHSC El Paso Trains Students on Health Care Teamwork, Communication

A busy surgeon walks into a hospital room and quickly demands assistance as she prepares to operate on a patient’s right knee.

“Wait,” someone in the room says. “The chart says we are supposed to be operating on the left knee.” The surgeon, unhappy with the interruption, says the chart is wrong and continues to prepare for the operation.

This was one of the scenarios more than 150 medical, nursing and pharmacy students trained for during an all-day interprofessional education session Jan. 25 at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). The exercise brought together medical and nursing students from TTUHSC El Paso and pharmacy students from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to experience scenarios that tested their ability to communicate for the good of the patient.

On Jan. 25, medical and nursing students from TTUHSC El Paso and pharmacy students from UTEP came together to experience scenarios that tested their ability to communicate for the good of the patient.

On Jan. 25, medical and nursing students from TTUHSC El Paso and pharmacy students from UTEP came together to participate in training exercises that tested their ability to communicate for the good of the patient.

The training took place in TTUHSC El Paso’s two simulation centers: the Regional Simulation and Training Center at the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing (GGHSON), and the Center for Advanced Teaching and Assessment in Clinical Simulation at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM).

The training session used Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety, or TeamSTEPPS, a training model for improving team performance. TeamSTEPPS provides students with the communication tools needed to navigate different clinical situations.

Not everyone can naturally communicate well, says Manny Santa Cruz, D.N.P., R.N., M.B.A., assistant dean of undergraduate education in the GGHSON. Proper training can prepare students to communicate better in high-stress situations.

“If I’m a nurse or pharmacist, there will be times, depending on the situation, when I need to lead the team,” Santa Cruz said. “The team leader is not necessarily based on expertise. It’s not based on hierarchy. It’s based on the situation and who knows the information best.”

The day was an “amazing learning experience,” said Jennifer Perez, a GGHSON student. She said she learned how to communicate better with a team.

“Most importantly, I think what we all got out of this is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor, a pharmacist or a nurse, it all comes back to working together as a group,” Perez said. “Everyone needs to put in some leadership, not just one person.”

Amir Rastegari, a student in the UTEP School of Pharmacy’s inaugural class, said he was appreciative of the opportunity to get out of the classroom and see first-hand the challenges of communicating as a health care team.

“Coming here to TTUHSC El Paso, we really get to see the other side of health care,” Rastegari said. “Not just focusing on pharmacy, but also getting a feel for what the nursing and medical students do. It makes us feel part of the health care team. Knowing everybody else’s responsibilities helps me better understand my roles as well.”

Much of the training focused on showing the medical, nursing and pharmacy students that they all need to show leadership and take control in certain situations. It’s not for the doctor to bark orders while others fall in line.

Those were lessons Jourdan Harper, a PLFSOM student, said will help him as he progresses in his career.

“It really needs to be a team effort where everybody is on an equal playing field working together,” Harper said. “All of the scenarios have put me in uncomfortable situations and shown me that I need to be able to adapt more. I need to be able to think on the fly and interact with people to get the information I need to help the patient. I definitely learned a lot today.”

Gathering different types of health care professionals and learning together is a fundamental part of TTUHSC El Paso’s mission, Santa Cruz said.

“That’s the uniqueness of a health sciences center; we only produce health care professionals,” he said. “That’s our specialty. There is a huge demand for health care professionals in El Paso. We want to catch them early and let them know that we all respect and support each other. Our goal has always been to care for the patient.”

So how did that knee-surgery patient do? Though some teams banded together and used their communication skills to stop the surgery, others allowed the angry, overbearing surgeon to overwhelm the proper protocols and cut into the wrong knee.

But the groups who failed may have learned the most of all, Santa Cruz said.

“They were appalled by their own behavior,” he said. “We then provided verbal and visual cues to help them understand what they could have done differently. If our students can learn from these mistakes now, hopefully they’ll know what to do when they encounter similar scenarios in a real setting.”