Nursing tutors at the University of Surrey will don life-like rubber masks and hands to transform themselves into older patients and test a new teaching technique.
They say the pioneering method, which involves immersing themselves in the characters to interact with nursing students, has the potential to be more effective than teaching with dummies or traditional role-play with actors.
The masks are so realistic students are “drawn into the characters” making the experience closer to caring for real patients, explains Dr Maria Miklaucich, teaching fellow at the university’s School of Health Sciences.
“Once I put my mask on I become someone else and that person has a name, a health history, a life history and an extended family and I know all of that,” she said.
“With a masked educator…you can draw the student into conversations about the activities they are doing much more realistically”
The university currently uses mannequins and actors to represent patients and relatives but Dr Miklaucich said using masked educators allowed for more “spontaneous” teaching underpinned by professional expertise.
“An actor pretending to be a patient doesn’t have those underlying educational components so they can’t turn around and give a prompt or cue, question a student’s actions or ensure they are communicating properly,” she said.
“With a masked educator you are able to do that, for example by asking about hand washing policy. You can draw the student into conversations about the activities they are doing much more realistically,” she added.
The teaching method, known as Mask-Ed, was developed by nursing professor Kerry Reid-Searl from Central Queensland University in Australia.
Dr Miklaucich said: “In Australia, Professor Reid-Searl found students were drawn into the characters and they became embedded within the school of nursing.
“They set up a blog on the students’ web pages and that’s what we want to do too so the characters have a bit of life and can say what they have been up to today.”
Dr Miklaucich - who is leading the teaching technique with fellow tutor Dr Allison Wiseman – said they plan to launch a year-long action research project to test the effectiveness of the technique.
“An actor pretending to be a patient doesn’t have [the] underlying educational components so they can’t turn around and give a prompt or cue [to students]”
They have secured £9,100 in funding from university donors to attend training and buy silicone masks, hands and torsos and hope to deliver lessons using them from March.
The pair, who must follow strict health and safety procedures to wear the masks, have already tried out the concept on current and prospective nursing students.
Both went into a third-year teaching session in character and described the student reaction as “fascinating”.
“Some helped my colleague walk up the steps and sit down whereas others veered away and looked away. When you are in the mask you quite clearly see students’ reaction to an older person,” said Dr Miklaucich.
The tutors will assess the impact of the teaching model by making field notes and observations as well as gathering feedback from students through focus groups and questionnaires.
Dr Miklaucich hoped the sessions would enable discussion of wider themes around elderly care such as stigma, social isolation and stereotyping.