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Disaster drill prepares Binghamton University nursing students for real-world challenges

Triaging patients, communicating in an emergency and following your organization’s disaster plan are among the skills student nurses practice during the annual disaster drill held in the Decker School of Nursing. Image Credit: Patrick Leiby.


Disaster drill prepares Binghamton University nursing students for real-world challenges

By Natalie Blando-George

You’re a registered nurse at a hospital in the path of a tornado and you have 10 minutes to evacuate your unit. What do you do?

That’s the scenario almost 200 students in Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing faced during a disaster drill in May. Held every spring, the drill is an integral part of the students’ Practice of Nursing course, which they take the last semester before graduating.

Adopting a new format from previous years, the drill was held in the 10-bed hospital ward within the Decker School’s Innovative Simulation and Practice Center (ISPC). Students were broken into small groups and spread out over four days, but each team dealt with the same task — to evacuate patients and family members to a safe location before the tornado hit. Students were assigned the role of standardized staff, patient, family member or float nurse whose role was to assist the staff with the evacuation. While one group of float nurses assisted with the evacuation of the unit, the other float nurses observed, planning their turn or evaluating the process.

Students had to prioritize and then move all patients into a nearby hallway while still attending to their medical needs – patients couldn’t be left unattended in the hallway, for instance. When the 10 minutes were up, the lights were turned off and anyone left in the room was considered to have perished.

“We chose this scenario because evacuating a patient unit is something that could happen to a nurse on his or her very first day,” said Patricia Reuther, director of the ISPC.

The disaster drill enabled students to practice triaging patients and helped them learn the importance of communication during an emergency. In addition, Reuther said the drill illustrates to students how critical it is for nurses to know the disaster-management policies of their organization to ensure everyone follows the same plan.

Feedback from Decker faculty who observed the drills has been positive and students are pleased with the knowledge they gained from the experience.

“I learned how to evacuate isolation patients without contaminating the rest of the patients, how to triage and the importance of maintaining composure/thinking critically in high-stress situations,” one student wrote on the post-drill reflection all students were required to submit. Another wrote, “During a disaster, patients and families rely on nurses for support, care and guidance. I know if I remain calm, I can effectively communicate with my patients and hopefully keep them calm so they can be evacuated in the most effective and safe manner.”

Prior to taking part in the disaster drill, students in all sections of the course worked together in the classroom on a series of community-disaster scenarios. On April 23, students were broken into groups and each group was assigned a scenario and given a series of questions to answer following an established disaster-management paradigm. A week later, each group presented its work to fellow classmates and course instructors Judy Kitchin, clinical lecturer; Laura Terriquez-Kasey, clinical associate professor; and Karen Browne, clinical instructor.

The students had to address natural disasters that included a tornado, earthquake, hurricane and severe winter storm, as well as man-made events such as an anthrax release on a subway, an outbreak of an unknown illness at a children’s camp, terrorism at an airport, an explosion on campus and a transportation accident that resulted in a chemical spill.

“The purpose of presenting the different scenarios during class was to have students think critically about how to respond to a variety of disasters they may encounter during their nursing careers,” said Kitchin.

source: Binghamton University – State University of New York

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