TAFE South Western Sydney Institute director Peter Robert (left) with aged care patient “Thomas”, aka Irene Swyer, an aged care trainer at Bankstown College, with aged care students
Retired coal-miner Thomas, 83, is the star of a new aged care training facility in Western Sydney that imitates the workplace and offers a simulation-style program involving silicone props worn by the trainer.
More than 200 students a year are expected to use the facility, which was offically launched on Thursday, located at South Western Sydney Institute’s (SWSi) Bankstown College.
The new centre is already in operation and features three hospital aged care beds, an aged care day bed, a shower recess plus the latest aged care technology and teaching aids.
TAFE SWSi director Peter Roberts said the facility ensured students were properly equipped with the practical skills needed to build a successful career in the residential and community aged care sectors.
“It means students can test their skills in a safe and controlled environment before entering the aged care workforce,” Mr Roberts said.
The institute is the first TAFE in New South Wales to offer Mask ED (KRS simulation) where trained trainers use silicone props, such as masks, torsos, hands and feet, and take on the persona of an aged care patient.
‘Thomas’ is one of the aged care patients at Bankstown College. He grew up on the NSW south coast, lives with his wife Mary and has four grown up children – Bruce, a nursing student, Catherine, who is married with one child, Beth, a director of nursing at an aged care facility, and James who is a solicitor and gay.
Thomas retired from coal mining due to his poor health when he was in his fifties. He now has congestive cardiac failure, arthritis, diabetes, the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, a history of skin rashes, and has previously had bowel cancer and a heart attack.
But Thomas is not a real aged care patient. Rather, he is a character created by Irene Swyer, a registered nurse and full-time trainer at the college.
“Thomas has been in the class twice so far. At the first introduction, the students were just blown away,“ Ms Swyer said. “I came into the classroom as an older person and a bit slow moving. The students rushed over to me and got a chair for me.”
The Certificate III students did not know it was their teacher at first but were treated to a live unmasking at the end of the lesson, she said.
The lessons with Thomas aim to give students an opportunity to address the medical and social components of care.
“When I go in as Thomas, I’ll say to the students, I’m very breathless today, I’ve got congestive cardiac failure. That means I can’t walk very far,” Ms Swyer said.
“Thomas likes fishing, football and gardening and because his daughter is an aged care manager, he is very interested in aged care,” she said.
“In the classroom, we’re trying to teach about cultural diversity and what preferences are and that as a carer we’re not allowed to judge people,” she said.
Above: Professor Kerry Reid-Searl, right, dressed in character, demonstrating the technique at the 2012 Hopsital in the Nursing Home Conference in Brisbane.
Training the trainer
Ms Swyer is one of five aged care trainers from TAFE SWSi at colleges in Bankstown, Wetherill Park and Macquarie Fields who have completed the Mask-ED training after Janet Stephens, operational support at SWSi, discovered the training device and introduced it to the institute.
The training is run by Professor Kerry Reid-Searl who developed MASK-ED (KRS simulation), which stands for knowledgeable, realistic and spontaneous simulation, while she was teaching undergraduate nursing students at CQ University.
“It is a simulation technique that enables realistic human experience to be articulated through experts. The experts with the knowledge don the props and turn into a character, but that character has a rich history to support learning,” Prof Reid-Searl said.
“It is a safe way for students to learn, move to treating patients in a vulnerable state before they get into the real world.”
Prof Reid-Searl said the technique also taught things not in the textbooks.
“It teaches about the humanness of caring, the deterioration of patients and through the expert and story telling, the characters come to life and can prompt the students along the way.”
Above: Unmasked. Professor Kerry Reid-Searle at the 2012 Hospital in the Nursing Home Conference. The mask is on the table beside her.
Central to using the program are the workshops run by Prof Reid-Searl, which teach people how to use the technique.
“It is most effective when people understand the pedagogy and have trained in the technique,“ she said.
Trainers attend a two-day workshop where they develop and design their characters, learn to use the props and how to work the character into their training program and curriculum.
“The character is carefully built so they teach through their now new character, and even though the character is retired, they still have the skills,” she said.
Prof Reid-Searl said workshops will continue across Australia next year with 2014 dates to be announced in the coming weeks. To find out more about the technique, and the workshops, visit: Mask ED (KRS Simulation)