The idea of meeting your audience “where they’re at” is one a group of nursing professors has taken to heart in a mission to help future nurses handle opioid overdoses. This group, dubbed the “Sim Team,” developed what they call an innovative new approach to teaching nursing students about the opioid crisis by developing a purpose-built graphic novel.
“Sometimes in a classroom we’ll see students who … you feel are distant from you,” says Sue Coffey, an associate professor in the faculty of health sciences at Ontario Tech University. Dr. Coffey says they created the graphic novel, titled We Need Some Help out Here, to avoid the “same old, same old” course readings. “We often talk within our simulation team this idea of ‘teaching the ghost.’ Am I teaching the way I was taught … or am I teaching to the learners I have right in front of me, and [in] the way they learn?”
The Sim Team consists of professors from Ontario Tech, Durham College, Nipissing University and York University. Dr. Coffey says they focus on “creating learning opportunities that are real, that prepare our graduates for the real world, that reflect the phenomena that they’ll experience.” They do this through simulations that go hand-in-hand with the graphic novel.
Leslie Graham, a professor in the joint nursing program at Durham and Ontario Tech, says the book serves as a pre-briefing and prep tool for students before they go into a simulated overdose. Some students even pored over the novel a few times instead of digging into textbook readings. “Anecdotally, we did find that their performance improved after reading the graphic novel,” she says. “Their performance in the simulation was much stronger.”
We Need Some Help out Here depicts several scenes related to opioid use and abuse. The creators say its key messages are that healthcare providers know very little about the life of the person they are treating and shouldn’t make assumptions; that it’s important for bystanders to respond in emergency situations; and that because the opioid crisis is so widespread, an overdose could happen anywhere.
Dr. Coffey and Ms. Graham say their students are seeing the opioid crisis in their own lives and the training hits close to home for some learners. “Once you see something you can’t unsee it,” Dr. Coffey adds. The graphic novel and subsequent simulation exercises are “a very small harm-reduction approach. But I think there is so much work to do.”
Arlene de la Roche, who also teaches in the Durham-Ontario Tech program, says the graphic novel helps with students’ confidence during a simulated overdose. The opioid crisis can seem overwhelming, she says, but a recent simulation with hundreds of students in attendance has given her hope for the future nurses who’ll be dealing with it.
“How sad that this is going on every day, somewhere in our community and in our province and we might not know how to respond. But after [the simulation], I feel like at least 350 students out there know what they need to do.”