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Mock emergency provides valuable experience for students

Mock emergency 2019
During a mock emergency at UNG's Dahlonega Campus on Feb. 6, more than 700 students, faculty and staff worked through morning and afternoon simulations of an epidemic on campus with 20 students returning with an unidentified viral microorganism after an international health mission trip.

The Convocation Center on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus transformed into a mock emergency response site Feb. 6.

More than 700 students, faculty and staff worked through morning and afternoon simulations of an epidemic on campus with 20 students returning with an unidentified viral microorganism after an international health mission trip. Symptoms included headaches, rashes and fevers.

In the simulation, the university reached out to the U.S. Army National Guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security but was unable to receive immediate assistance. The students were on their own.

Grace Griffith, a second-year master's student from Clarkston, Georgia, pursuing a Master of Science in nursing for certification as a family nurse practitioner, was taking part in her fourth mock disaster, some of those at other schools. She said the event "made us more aware of how events like this might affect us in our practice environments."

Dr. Carolynn DeSandre, assistant dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions and associate professor of nursing, organized the event. She said it allowed students a low-pressure environment to test the health care skills they would use if called into action in a real-world health emergency.

Students in the athletic training, counseling, nursing and physical therapy degree programs arrived at check-in and received an envelope informing them if they had been exposed. Non-exposed students were assigned to provider roles and were responsible for caring for exposed students. Exposed students were assigned to patient roles with varying degrees of illness and comorbidities. Members of the Corps of Cadets provided moulage — the art of applying mock injuries — and security for the fictional emergency.

Different stations in the Convocation Center were initial triage, decontamination, a health care center, quarantine, inoculation, pharmacy, and safe zone. DeSandre said having students in different health care professions work together provided valuable experience.

"That results in better patient outcomes," DeSandre said. "Then when they get out there in the professional world, it's not the first time they're exposed to working interprofessionally."

Jordan Parson, a second-year master's student pursuing a degree in clinical mental health counseling, worked alongside nursing students. Parson, who is from Carnesville, Georgia, enjoyed that collaboration.

"It was nice to see how we can work together in crisis situations," Parson said.

Erin Raeford, a second-year master's student from Buford, Georgia, pursuing a Master of Science in nursing for certification as a family nurse practitioner, said having students in a variety of disciplines participate kept them from getting hung up on areas that weren't their specialties.

"Everyone is there with their expertise," Raeford said.

Jacob Starrett, a senior from Hartwell, Georgia, pursuing a nursing degree, served as security with the Corps in the morning session. In the afternoon, he was a patient.

"It's kind of crazy because there are no charts, there's no planning ahead. They just had to deal with what's thrown at them," Starrett said. "And it's a good preparation exercise to go with the flow."

Professional health experts offering advice and evaluating the event were inside a command center. One professional evaluator was Kim Ryan, senior vice president of WellStar Health System and president of WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. The previous day, she recounted to students her experience as chief operating officer and incident commander of Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Matthew Crumpton, coalition coordinator for Georgia Mountains Healthcare Coalition and emergency preparedness manager for Northeast Georgia Health System, also participated. He acted as a patient in the morning and a telehealth expert and professional evaluator in the afternoon.

"To allow the students to see what it would be like to work in a health care facility, especially in something of this magnitude with a pandemic, it's really eye-opening for them," Crumpton said. "They're used to thinking about one patient at a time, and some of the students had to think about that triage process with resources being overwhelmed."

Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at UNG, was excited to see so many university groups working together. The college emphasizes an interprofessional approach to education that allows students to be prepared for how health care services are delivered today.

"We learn how many resources we have on our campus and what we can bring to bear if we ever had an emergency," Conner-Kerr said. "We have all these health science students in training. We have our Corps of Cadets, and we could marshal those resources if we ever needed them in this community."

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