Theatre arts alum prepares to take newborn “son” home 12 times over two days

January 14, 2020 | Society, Health
When Jarrod Smith (Theatre Arts ’18) was preparing for his upcoming role as a new dad getting ready to go home with his partner after the birth of their first baby, things were a bit unusual. 

The stage looked exactly like a real hospital room; his “partner” and “son” were both life-sized robotic mannequins; and his audience and fellow cast members were one and the same – students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

In a new collaboration between the university’s Clinical Simulation Centre and Theatre Arts program, theatre alumni like Jarrod are filling important roles as standardized patients – actors trained to simulate a set of symptoms or problems in an educational setting. In the process, the actors and the nursing students are discovering some unexpected parallels between their two disciplines.

Carmen Selzer, third-year nursing student, imagines the feeling of walking through the doors into the simulation suite is a bit like opening night jitters for someone studying theatre.

“Everything is quite realistic and that’s important,” says Carmen. She describes her clinical simulation experience helping a family prepare to bring their newborn home as a low-risk, safe way to work through challenges, including finding the right way to speak with patients, providing personalized teaching and assisting patients without overstepping.

In this role, you really need to be authentic – to be a real person – and figure out how to make it feel real so the nursing students can respond in the same way they would in a real environment.
—Jarrod Smith 

Jarrod says the experience of preparing to take his newborn “son” home from the hospital 12 times over two days was valuable for him too.

“It’s a great way to hone our acting chops,” he says. “In this role, you really need to be authentic – to be a real person – and figure out how to make it feel real so the nursing students can respond in the same way they would in a real environment.” 

That means being hyper aware not only of his own acting, says Jarrod, but also of how the nursing students are behaving. “I’m watching their gestures and their facial expressions to see what they mean and what it is they’re saying without speaking. In that way, there’s this parallel with theatre – everything the nursing students do with their faces and their bodies sends a message. It’s the same when an actor is on stage.”

Taking note of how the nursing students respond is an important part of the standardized patient’s role. “There are no grades in simulation, only formative feedback,” explains Cynthia Gundermann, a professional resource faculty member for the Clinical Simulation Centre, who also provides specialized training for the theatre alumni. The formative feedback nursing students receive comes from faculty members, their fellow students and standardized patients. “The theatre alumni we’ve worked with are beautiful at giving feedback, and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive for our students and our faculty.”

Giving and receiving notes is just one of many skills theatre alumni get to hone as part of this new collaboration, says Assistant Professor Dawn Sadoway, who coordinates the theatre aspects of the partnership with the simulation centre alongside her fellow Assistant Professor Jim Guedo.

“It’s a wonderful way for our alumni to practice the skills they spend so much time developing during their theatre training, to think about the physical aspects of communication in portraying someone who may be in pain or experiencing a certain medical condition, and to respond in the moment to whatever is thrown at them.”

Currently, eight theatre alumni have been trained as standardized patients, and there is room for many more. “We see the program growing significantly as more alumni become interested and aware,” says Dawn.


Watch our current theatre students in action

The Crucible, a harrowing drama set during the Salem Witch Trials, runs in Allard Hall from January 29 to February 8, 2020.

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