Operation STAT explores worst-case scenario for Towson nursing students
Dozens of students from Towson University and surrounding areas participating in Operation STAT were faced with a deadly fictitious scenario on Friday: Thousands of people are injured after a plane crashed into a fully packed Johnny Unitas Stadium. Local hospitals are pushed to the limit dealing with injuries ranging from glass-embedded faces to compound fractures and burns.
The ballrooms in the West Village Commons were transformed into emergency triage stations with cots set up for the patients in response to the imagined scenario.
“I didn’t expect it to be so chaotic,” Towson nursing student Brittany Gentilini said.
Nikki Austin from the nursing department and chair of the planning committee for Operation STAT said that the primary objective of the emergency scenario was to provide for students an interdisciplinary learning experience so that students from different professional fields would have a chance to work together in a stressful situation.
“We’re really interested in preparing the whole community to respond to disasters,” she said.
She added that the ideal outcome would be that students “would be able to translate what they learn in the classroom to an actual field setting and learn from an experience that we hope they never otherwise have.”
The interdisciplinary nature of Operation STAT was shown through the entire day, as a number of students were pulled from across different disciplines and from across the state. Some of the “victims” came from local high schools and the Friends School of Baltimore.
“The kids are really convincing, apparently they’ve been practicing for a while and they’re very well in character,” Gentilini said.
Jackie Libeau, a nursing instructor at the Career and Technology Center in Frederick County, brought two of her classes to participate in the scenario.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” she said. “[My students] have been trained in 70 different skills, so they’ve reviewed emergency care, and splinting, and CPR, and first aid and first response, but they’re really excited to partake in this and it’s really teaching them a lot.”
According to Austin, this year saw the largest number of participants from outside schools.
Junior Bryan Goodyear, a project management and business analysis major led the data collection group, which utilized barcoding technology to track patients and collect different statistics.
“The goal of it is to have post-event statistics on bottlenecks and even operations, as well as triage accuracy,” he said.
In order for the students to accurate patient care experience, the victims underwent moulage, which is the art of applying fake wounds and injuries.
Angel Clark Burba, paramedic program director at Howard Community College, was one of the volunteers applying moulage during the scenario. Burba, who works as a paramedic, said she has taken many moulage classes over the course of her career.
“It’s been fun, I’m not used to this level of the fast pace of it, and so it is difficult to make things very realistic looking, because of the pace, but I think we’re doing a pretty decent job,” she said.
Burba added that she hoped any students participating in Operation STAT would be able to feel less stress while dealing with significant injuries in their future careers, and be able to focus on treating patients rather than just focusing solely on their injuries.
“The moulage team has done a great job making up the patients, so it really is a great exercise,” community health nursing professor Mary Lashley said.
Joe Stewart, a second year nursing student at Towson, acted as the team leader of the yellow zone of the triage set up. Victims in the yellow zone were described as those with “intermediate” treatment needs.
“I’m more or less facilitating my team,” Stewart said. “Say there’s a compound fracture, that’s a little more acute, I’m going to have to have one or two of my nurses go to them first, and make sure they’re stable, rather than someone who comes in with just minor lacerations.”
This was Stewart’s first year participating in an operation like this.
“I think it’s awesome. I mean it’s overwhelming but I think it’s a really good learning experience,” Stewart said.
The triage setup also had green and red zones, for less severe and more acute conditions, respectively.
“It’s well organized and students are responding really well and appropriately to the injuries it seems like,” Libeau said.
But the scenario was not just treating patients and letting them go. Some patients required transportation in an ambulance to the nearby Greater Baltimore Medical Center for more intensive treatment practice.
“There are more variables involved. They have people really freak out sometimes,” Goodyear said. “They turned the lights out for a little bit, which was a real curveball.”
The variables thrown at students participating in Operation STAT were meant to enhance their experience, not slow down or hinder the scenario.
“I think each year we revise it and tweak it, it runs more smoothly and efficiently,” Lashley said. “There’s a lot of involvement from students across many different disciplines and we have a lot of external community partners this year, which is very exciting.”