June 28, 2019 - It’s 8 p.m., and a worried mother visits a health clinic with her sick child. A nurse and medical assistant ask her questions and try to reassure her while they check the child. 

But all ends well, because when the simulation is over, the child turns back into a high-tech mannequin, and participating nursing students and medical assistant trainees are able to relax and discuss how the scenario went with the “mother,” another nursing student. 

The mutually beneficial learning exercise is a part of a five-year collaboration among the nursing program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies; Mary’s Center, a community health clinic that provides education, health care, and social services; and Briya Public Charter School, a Mary’s Center partner that administers the medical assistant program.

Diane Davis stands in front of a bookshelf

Dr. Diane Davis

Since 2014, approximately 120 medical assistant and more than 180 Georgetown nursing students have participated, according to Diane Davis (NHS’78, G’18), DNP, RN, the Georgetown faculty leader on the collaboration. A special aspect of the collaboration is that Mary’s Center’s founder, Maria Gomez (NHS’77), and chief nursing officer, Dara Koppelman (G’18), are Georgetown alumnae.

Workforce Development

“We hit on something that was effective for both groups,” says Davis, who first learned about Mary’s Center and Briya’s establishment of the medical assistant program while she was on a pediatric rotation with her students. Davis suggested they use the NHS O’Neill Family Foundation Clinical Simulation Center, a realistic clinical setting with high-fidelity mannequins in St. Mary’s Hall, to help the medical assistant trainees learn. 

The teams have continued holding the simulations three times a year ever since to practice communications skills, do basic assessments, and learn practical skills such as giving injections and drawing blood.

Together, the teams wrote realistic scenarios – such as the worried mother with sick child and a violent patient who needs to be calmed – that help the medical assistants practice communication skills. 

Learning From Each Other

While the medical assistant students are technically the ones being educated, “the Georgetown students learn so much from individuals with diverse experiences and backgrounds different than their own,” Davis says.

The nursing students tend to be in their 20s and are able to attend a university; the medical assistant trainees are typically between age 18 and 55, recent immigrants (many from South America), and have not yet had the opportunity to attend college, she says.

A Community Focus

The simulation clinic also gives the nursing students a better sense of what community nursing is like. “Nursing education has traditionally been focused on educating nurses to work in hospitals – we need to move more toward educating them to work in the community as well,” Davis says. 

After each clinic, the organizers ask both the nursing students and medical assistant trainees to reflect on the experience. One year, Davis formalized the process, and she and several collaborators analyzed the results, which they published in a 2018 paper in Clinical Simulation in Nursing

They found the participants reported the experience gave them confidence in communicating with team-members, helped them gain empathy for patients, and develop different perspectives, and helped them learn about nurses’ and medical assistants’ roles in a community health care setting.  

“Medical assistants are very much part of the team that a nurse would work with in a community setting. It’s such an important relationship,” Davis says.

-Kathleen O’Neil, GUMC Communications