Underserved communities are distressed by a shortage of behavioral health providers and disproportionately impacted by high rates of poverty, depression, anxiety, suicide, opioid overdose, and substance use. The social work profession, broadly, and social work education, in particular, face the challenge of increasing the supply of trained clinicians who can work interprofessionally. Training and collaborating with other health professionals is critical to the success of a behavioral health workforce prepared to advance health equity and meet the needs of patients in underserved communities. COVID-19 created an urgent need to prepare students to practice in healthcare settings that rapidly innovated to telehealth. A nascent literature has explored the feasibility of leveraging remote technology in interprofessional (IPE) simulation, but thus far the feasibility of a virtual IPE simulation that includes social work students is unclear.
This study sought to examine the feasibility and acceptability of a virtual IPE simulation designed to build social work (MSW) and nursing (MSN) students’ competencies in interdisciplinary practice. Because of the interest in understanding participants’ responses to the IPE, the study specifically assessed students’ satisfaction with the simulation and their experience of engaging in a clinical encounter in a virtual environment.
With funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an IPE simulation training was adapted to a virtual format using Zoom. It involved actors who played the standardized patient, trained observers, MSW students, and MSN students. A satisfaction survey was administered electronically, which consisted of 12 Likert scale items and 3 open-ended questions. Descriptive analyses were performed on 6 of these items. Thematic analyses were performed on the students’ answers to open-ended questions.
The study sample (N=54) was predominantly female-identified (91%) and Non-Hispanic/Latino (87%). Twenty percent of the sample identified as Black or African American, 57% identified as White, and 13% identified as Asian. Eighty nine percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the training contributed to their professional goals. Eighty two percent of participants rated the training as very good or excellent. The majority of participants agreed or strongly agreed that it was easy to engage the patient virtually (76%); collaborate interprofessionally (70%); and assess the patient’s behavioral health needs virtually (63%).
Students described the opportunity to observe, learn from, and collaborate with another profession as the most helpful aspect of the experience. They found that the simulation replicated real life and gave them a unique opportunity to practice skills and receive helpful feedback. Some reported that they felt there was not enough time allotted for the clinical interaction, and a few students reported technical glitches.
Conclusions and Implications
Virtual simulation is one promising way of training health professions students and thus addressing the need to expand the workforce in underserved communities. The simulation provided a unique and valued opportunity for MSW and MSN students to practice clinical skills and collaborate in a virtual setting; students were overwhelmingly satisfied with the experience. Clinical assessment in the virtual environment proved more difficult than patient engagement or interprofessional collaboration.