On Monday, Oct. 3, students representing six academic departments in health sciences and related departments packed into the Founders Room and Cone Chapel for “A Night at the Round Tables.” This interdepartmental collaboration event challenged students from a variety of fields to work through a case study as a team, simulating a real-world situation of health care professionals’ collective expertise.
“The students are excited to learn about the role of other health professionals and what this means for patients they will serve in the future,” said Mary Madill, assistant professor in the physician assistant program. “It is humbling for them to realize they don’t have all the answers. They start to understand they will be part of a team that includes the patient, their support system and the health care community, and it is this team that will facilitate change in the lives of patients and health care systems.”
The event first began in spring 2013 after a group of faculty members expressed a desire for their students to interact with each other more. Melanie Lowry, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders and one of the emcees for the event, said it’s important for students to learn that they are just one piece of the puzzle.
“We want our students to know that every case is not going to centrally involve their disciplines,” she said. “So, learning to watch the process and learning that everything isn’t about them all the time is a great lesson.”
“In practice, we were all accustomed to being part of a health care team and wanted to translate that experience to the educational process,” Madill said. “It has been an excellent experience to be part of the faculty team. We all think with a shared language, but each person brings a unique perspective to the diagnostic and the educational process, which has resulted in a unique event that is beneficial to not only the students but also the faculty.”
Five faculty members from various departments and 50 students participated in the first event. For the fall 2016 event, the sixth time the event had been held, approximately 20 faculty members and 350 students participated from nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, professional counseling and speech therapy. Faculty members from dietetics, social work and education have also contributed to various cases.
“Together as a faculty group, we work out the basics of the case and the framework,” Madill said. “From there, each faculty member fills in the components that are specific to their skill set.”
Participants were broken into small groups of seven to 10 students — one student from each field — and worked through modules set up in Canvas, the University’s portal for online learning. This semester’s case featured a 15-year-old boy who had been recently placed in foster care after suspicion of abuse. As the night progressed, components of the case were unlocked and revealed new information to students, who gained more and more knowledge about the subject of the featured case.
“I learned that this kid has a fluency disorder I can address as a speech-language pathologist,” said Kaleb McLarty, second year speech-language pathology graduate student. “This was not in the initial report that we received, but then the interview and following tests proved that he does have a severe fluency disorder, and I am learning skills to help this need.”
Participants watched a video of a simulated interview with the patient, who was portrayed by freshman theatre student Drew Holley. Joni Day, instructor in the communication sciences and disorders department, coached Holley on how to portray a speaker who is dysfluent. The patient was also present at the event and answered some questions from students.
“The first actor we ever had at an event was actually Robin Miller from the theatre department,” Lowry said. “Several years ago, he played a patient with Parkinson’s disease and a hip fracture named Mr. Farmer. He was very convincing, and one of our students cried in despair at his situation. I had to show her his picture on the website for her to believe that he was just an actor. Having someone in person to play the role of the patient really adds a whole new level of reality to the situation for students. It is a concrete way to remind us all that the individuals we serve are more than just a diagnosis. Each of them is a person; someone’s son, daughter, mother or sister.”
Jeff Herchenroeder, a third year pharmacy student, said he enjoyed learning from other participants in his group.
“I learned that the patient was willing to open up about some things, but there were other things that he did not really want to talk about,” Herchenroeder said. “This is when the counselor of the group suggested that weekly meetings might be beneficial for him. It would allow him to get comfortable with someone and show him that he has someone he can talk to if he ever needs it. It was mentioned to start him on an anti-anxiety medicine before he went to counseling, but with his age, it is not something that you would want to immediately dive into. It would be best to wait and see how he reacts at the counseling sessions.”
Two students made a presentation at the event that outlined the responsibility of a mandated reporter, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as “persons who are required to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency, such as child protective services, a law enforcement agency, or a state’s toll-free child abuse reporting hotline.”
“It is my job to report situations that could save a child from abuse or neglect,” McLarty said. “This is something I knew in the back of my head, but this event really helped me understand when I should report, how I should report, and who I am supposed to report to. I feel much more prepared to take on this sensitive and delicate task.”
“I loved that we highlighted an aspect of health care that we might not talk about enough, which is being a mandated reporter,” Lowrey said. “And I loved that we highlighted a community resource, which is the White County Child Safety Center.”
As students worked through the case using the skills they’ve been learning in the classroom, they experienced a hands-on application of their knowledge and a real world perspective on collaborating with other health care professionals.
“My favorite aspect of the event was interacting with other students,” Herchenroeder said. “It is interesting to see how others think and what they initially focus on. I think that the event is beneficial to everyone, and they do truly try to involve every program.”
“I was challenged to work as a group and not think my way is the right way,” McLarty said. “I am seeing it through the lens of an SLP, but I am always challenged at these events to work with a team and truly listen to what each person brings to the table. There is a great community that is in these moments that reflects the nature of Harding and its community of mission. I am proud to be a part of it!”