Case Study: Students Receive Valuable IPP Training During a Disaster Simulation Event

Work Setting: Health Care

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Faculty from a university’s health care–related programs collaboratively developed an interprofessional education (IPE) experience for their undergraduate and graduate students. By working together across departments, the faculty planned and executed a tornado simulation, where students role-played “victims” and “responders.” As they carried out their roles, students learned about collaboration and health care services during a disaster. They also learned how to communicate effectively with patients and victims.


Faculty from health care–related university programs identified a need to provide IPE opportunities, educational experiences which help students learn the skills they need for interprofessional practice (IPP). Faculty representatives from multiple disciplines met and collaboratively developed a simulation for undergraduate and graduate students. The experience would provide students with the ability to practice and collaborate.

Meet the Team

Physical Therapy Student
Athletic Training Students
Speech-Language Pathology Student
Nursing Students
Medical Students
Social Work Student

How They Collaborated

The health care faculty and university’s coordinator of simulation experiences met to identify goals for the activity and to assign roles and responsibilities. During that discussion, the team decided that the event would simulate the aftermath of a tornado. The university’s event coordinator was chosen to serve as the team facilitator.

The university’s coordinator of simulation experiences secured physical space for the event and the necessary community resources (e.g., ambulance, fire, paramedic, life flight). In addition, the coordinator took care of event logistics, such as recruiting volunteers, ordering materials, and assigning student roles.

The faculty team members worked together to develop types of injuries and medical needs for students to act out during the simulation. In addition, the faculty identified needed materials and trained students on how role-play injuries, communication disorders, brain injury symptoms, and more. The faculty also trained graduate students to be the responders during the disaster event.

Finally, the faculty developed a training module for the event, enabling students to learn more about the varying roles of each discipline.

The IPE Exercise

During the simulation, graduate students were assigned roles based on their course of study. For example, physical therapy and athletic training students responded to orthopedic-related injuries, head trauma, and open wounds. Speech-language pathology students worked with victims who had difficulty communicating. Nursing students provided medical care, and medical students whose study concentrated on cardiology and pulmonology provided care for victims requiring respiratory support. Social work students helped secure food, clothing, and shelter for victims displaced by the tornado.

The student victims wore cards displaying information about their needs and vital statistics. Responders gathered as much information as possible from the victim through examination and interviews and referred to the card as they made treatment decisions.

Faculty members observed the teams and evaluated the students’ interactions, ability to fulfill professional roles, and how they worked as a team.


After the event, the university conducted a debriefing with all participating students. In these interviews, they gathered data on the students’ experiences and asked them about what they learned. The outcome data revealed that students learned about a wide range of health-related disciplines. The exercise helped them to see the “big-picture” perspective of IPP and to understand the provision of health care services during a disaster. Students also reported that the experience prompted them to consider how to engage all members of a team in meaningful ways. They said that they became more aware of communication disorders and the ways in which responders can facilitate effective communication with patients and victims.

Faculty observers noted that some students initially felt confused about their roles, but this improved throughout the course of the simulation. The students’ collaboration also improved as the simulation progressed.

Ongoing Collaboration

The team will consider all feedback from students and faculty. The team’s initial recommendations for future simulations include the following:

  • Expand pre-simulation training, so students learn more about other professions and their roles and responsibilities.
  • Get feedback from community partners, such as paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and life-flight personnel.

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