College of Veterinary Medicine helps to create athletic trainer simulation program

When Dr. Kasee Hildenbrand and Katy Pietz were considering opportunities for their students in the Washington State University Athletic Training Program to get hands-on experience, the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Clinical Communication Program was not on their radar.

But that changed after they learned how it was integral in the creation of a simulation program for psychology graduate students in the College of Education. The pair contacted the Clinical Communication Program’s director, Dr. Julie Cary, and collaboration developed rapidly.

“It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly things happened,” Hildenbrand said. “We met in October, and we did our first simulation that spring.”

While she initially felt daunted by the prospect of creating scenarios for her athletic training students, Hildenbrand credits the Clinical Communication Program’s expertise in experiential education with helping the process go smoothly. In addition to inviting Hildenbrand and Pietz to observe other simulation scenarios conducted through the program, they were offered the chance to participate as simulated clients.

Through observing and participating in other simulation scenarios and with the guidance of support of the Clinical Communication Program, Hildenbrand and Pietz were able to give their athletic training scenarios an increased depth and realism, with a focus on communication.

“Communication is a vital skill for medical professionals because it directly influences outcomes and effectiveness,” Dr. Cary said. “If our clients or patients don’t trust us or understand what we are asking, we won’t get accurate information on which to make a diagnosis. Clients or patients who don’t feel heard, understood, or valued are much less likely to follow health care recommendations, resulting in treatment failures and higher health care expenses.”

Rather than develop a single class focused on communication and simulation, Pietz and Hildenbrand elected to feather the use of simulation into six existing courses that students take during the three-year program. Each scenario incorporates content from corresponding athletic training courses while maintaining a focus on student communication with the simulated patient. 

“I can teach how to do a shoulder evaluation, but doing the simulation helps students realize the patient is a person who has actual feelings and needs,” Hildenbrand said. “I don’t think they can get that in any other way than doing this simulation.”

In addition to technical and communication skill practice and development, establishing simulation within the Athletic Training Program has offered athletic training students opportunities for networking. Students learn from professional athletic trainers working at WSU and in various communities on the Palouse who serve as coaches and mentors in facilitating the scenarios.

While collaborating on communication-focused simulation, Pietz and Hildenbrand discovered what other incredible resources the College of Veterinary Medicine offered, including the Clinical Simulation Center.

“We’ve done suturing labs with the simulation center three different times,” Hildenbrand said, “and we have veterinary teaching assistants that staff this open hour.”

Through working with the simulation center and the communication program, Hildenbrand has gained a new appreciation for partnership with the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It has broadened our perspective of who our potential collaborators might be, beyond thinking that we can only learn from a physician,” she said.