6 Tips For Getting Starting With Simulated Participants

By Megan Weldon

This blog post is in reference to University of Delawares Healthcare Theater course. It is a 3 credit course to utilize college students to play patients and family members. These tips can apply to all simulated participant programs.

Step 1: Look For Your Champion

Find the ying to your yang!

You can't do this alone you need to find your partner. If you are healthcare you need to find someone in theater or someone with theater experience. If you are in theater you need to find a champion in healthcare. You need to find the balance, each of you will have strengths to make this program run. Theater will be able to assist with coaching your SP's and preparing them to play the role. Healthcare will be able to create realistic situations that will best suit the students to meet their learning objectives. 

When looking for a partner, you want someone who sees the value in the program. This cant be a relationship based on them doing you a favor. Theater needs to view this as an incredible opportunity for theater students to practice improv and be involved with with other disciplines. If your champion is expecting payment for students this is not the correct partner. Students can be compensated with a credit it does not have to be financial. 


Step 2: Split Responsibilities

You cant do it all!

This relationship needs to be based in a mutual respect for one another. This can't be one sided, that is why you found a partner. Each of you should work from your strengths. The healthcare side should be the one to write the detailed character. The theater side should coach the students to get them to the appropriate level of difficulty. When it comes to grading, dealing with unprofessional behavior, and evaluations this needs to be divided evenly so that you don't feel like you are juggling all of the responsibility. 

The best defense is a good offense, before the semester starts set a game plan of how you want to deal with unprofessional behavior. If a student doesn't show up who handles it? What do you do? What are  the repercussions? You cant think of everything but try to run through about 5 scenarios of who would handle it. Here are some suggestions. 

1. SP not showing up to simulation.

2. SP being late to simulation.

3. SP coming unprepared 

4. Student forgot to turn in assignment.

5. Family crisis cant come to simulation.

As the semester goes on you will add to your list. 


Step 3: Start Small

Don't bite off more than you can chew

If you try to change all of your simulations into SP sims you will be so overwhelmed and the program will not last because it will be too much. Make sure you start small your first semester, start with one or two simulations and keep the numbers small. Our first class we had four students in an independent study. We started with one simulation and had our nursing department write the simulation and the character description. We did the simulation through out one week and our theater department came that week to do the coaching of each student. The program slowly grew over time and we started to integrate more simulations and more students. 

When you start small you get buy in from deans and directors, have them see the simulation in action. After our dean experience SP simulation she is our biggest supporter and it was easy to grow with her on our side. 


Step 4: Where Do I Find Simulated Participants?


When we started we had our theater faculty recruit from his theater classes. We reached out to advisors and told them about our course and what it was all about. Word of mouth is the way we get the majority of our students, friends recommending friends. Reaching out to a local community theater or high school theater students. Most community theater are looking for opportunities to get involved for more acting opportunities to grow their resume. 

The retired community is the largest pool of simulated participants. Retired nurses or healthcare providers are always looking for ways to give back and invest in the next generation. Once you find a handful of volunteers they will often have friends that will grow your program organically. Going on LinkedIn and typing in "Retired and looking for opportunities" can get your foot in the door to finding your first few volunteers. You never know until you ask. 

Some places we have found simulated participants. 

  • Local community theater 
  • Theater majors
  • Theater clubs
  • Healthcare fraternities or sororities 
  • High school theater group
  • Retired community 
  • Home schooled groups
Step 5: Interviews

Not everyone can be a simulated participant.

You want to be very selective with your simulated participants. The tip above is to help you find SP's but that does not mean you accept everyone. We bring everyone in for a 15 minute interview. This is to spend some one on one time to get to know each person. The first thing we want to learn is "how did they hear about us?" and "why do you want to be a simulated participant?" We have seen it more than once but people want to come "fix" the healthcare providers. This is the number one reason to not allow someone to be a simulated participant. You do not want SP's, there to fix students. 

Another question we ask is "what does your schedule look like?" This is a great way to understand how busy they will be during the semester. We ask how many credits they will be taking?, what kind of clubs or volunteer program they are apart of?, and if they have a job?. This gives you a good idea of their flexibility. 

Schedule red flags-

Credit hours 12-18 is normal over 18 raises a red flag

Volunteer or Clubs 1-2 a week anything more raises a red flag

Job anything over 20 hours is a red flag a non flexible schedule is a red flag. 

If a student has more than two red flags, they may be too busy for the course. I will explain how much time I am expecting them to commit. The student will either agree and they don't have time to take the course or they drop a course to free up time or they don't volunteer that semester. it is better to be upfront about time commitment than to both be frustrated during the semester. 

We want to get to know them but we also want to explain what simulation is and the expectations of them. We have brought people in and very quickly learn that they are germaphobe and do not want to get in bed after people. That person is not the right fit for your program. I once had a girlfriend and boyfriend who did not want the other playing the husband or wife with any other students. That would be a scheduling nightmare. The point of the interview is to filter through the people that would give you headaches during the semester. If you feel like they would be difficult to deal with in the interview I guarantee you will dread working with them during the semester. It is best to thank them but recognize it will not be a good fit. 

Questions we ask:

How did you hear about our course?

Why do you want to take this class?

What does your schedule look like this semester?

Would you rather play a role similar to yourself or different from you?

Do you have any emotional boundaries that would prevent you from playing a role? 

 Step 6: Auditions

You gotta see them act.

Right after we hold their interview we do an audition with them. We give the students two scenarios that they will be asked to play. This is an opportunity to see them get out of their comfort zone and act. If they break character and start laughing that will be an issue in simulation. If they are extremely flat and cant be coached that will limit the roles they can perform in. Very rarely have we not allowed a student to take the course due to a poor performance, it happens about once every two years. 

The next thing I look for is students who over act. They perform to get a laugh or to get a round of applause at the end of the scene. We have to make sure we explain to these students that they are not there to perform but to portray a real patient, the goal is to be authentic not dramatic. I will often coach students during the audition. If they are portraying an angry parent and just go over the top I will tell them you were at a 10 try it at a 6 or 7. This gives them a gage to know what we are looking for, you can then do it again and see if they take those coaching notes. 

Audition Scenes:

Angry parent who does not want their daughter admitted, they recently lost their health insurance.

Parent who lost their child at the pool. The doctor is coming in to tell them they lost the child.

Broken arm, student will demonstrate a ten out of ten pain. 



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Tags: Healthcare Theater, Simulated Participants