ACU hospital ward simulation readies health students for real deal

Acute stroke care, a drug overdose, Parkinson’s disease, end of life care and distressed relatives were among the critical scenarios presented to Australian Catholic University students in a lifelike simulation of a typical workday in a busy hospital.

Multi-million dollar simulation labs, dubbed St Jude’s Ward, across six of the university’s seven Australian campuses provided a safe and authentic hospital setting for nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech pathology students to experience the realistic demands of applying their knowledge and skills to manage multiple patients.

The complex and innovative unit utilised a combination of high-tech manikins and nursing students in the role of simulated patients.

An assortment of surgical, medical, mental health and critical care presentations were cared for by the interprofessional team. To add further realism, supervising lecturers were hands-off, instead acting as either a unit manager, doctor, allied health supervisor or upset relative to bring the innovative Interprofessional Ward for a Day project to life.

More than 2200 health science students across third year nursing, speech pathology and physiotherapy students, together with fourth year occupational therapy students worked on the edge of their expertise and learned with, from and about their professions and themselves in the process.

“It felt very real. But it was nice to have other student nurses around to support me,” third year nursing student Cara Jimenez said after her shift at the simulation lab in Brisbane.

“It was stressful but good.”

Interprofessional Ward for a Day demanded the students work in teams over three days in six-hour shifts.

Students attended the simulation as part of their unit requirements and over the three shifts experienced the realities of delivering patient care in a simulated Australian hospital environment.

While not life or death in a real sense, they managed a mix of clinical scenarios at St Jude’s, all the while testing their knowledge and skills.

“There were no acting awards handed out, but this was an enormously valuable exercise for the students,” ACU’s Victorian head of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine Elisabeth Jacob said.

“The students have the skills. And traditionally simulation learning is based on one patient or one skill at a time.

“But that’s not real life is it? It’s invaluable for the students to collaboratively manage up to a 10-bed ward while experiencing various distractions and interventions, within an interprofessional team.”  

Among her patients, fourth year occupational therapy student Zoe Woodman treated a stroke patient who had experienced right-sided weakness.

“It felt quite real,” she said. “I like having these practical simulations, especially going into (professional) placement.

“You feel more prepared.”

Safety was a priority at all times, with students engaging in debriefing at the end of each shift and having access to counselling with qualified staff during the immersive exercise.

The simulation labs will be a feature of Australian Catholic University’s 2023 Open Day events. For more information visit

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