Respiratory Therapy student helps a hypothetical victim in a Mass Casualty simulation

Tragedy can strike at any moment, and many health professions students have the knowledge and skills to jump in and help triage victims even in a chaotic and stressful situation — and practice makes perfect.

In October, students from three health disciplines (nursing, athletic training, and respiratory therapy) gathered in the Hearnes Center for MU’s first ever “mass casualty simulation” where the students were briefed on the hypothetical situation that they were about to be thrust into – a distracted driver crashed into a crowd of people at Tiger walk before a football game.

When faculty gave the word, nursing students who were given specific injuries to act out immediately began to scream and cry out as if the crash had just happened. Then, it was up to the athletic training, respiratory therapy and other nursing students to act quickly to treat and triage the “victims” in the best way they knew how through the chaos. The nursing students donned fake blood in order to increase the realism, and injuries ranged from crush injuries and fractures to severed limbs.

“It was a good experience for me,” athletic training student Jake Coffman said. “The standardized patients were great at acting and making the simulation as realistic as possible.”

Athletic training faculty member David Colt hoped the event would give the students some insight into how the different professions can and should work together to solve problems.

“We all have our own skill sets that we can share with each other, teach each other and work together for the betterment of the patient,” Colt said.

“This was the first time I had been involved in a mass casualty simulation, so it was exciting, yet nerve-wracking,” respiratory therapy student Casey Shepherd said, “The thoughts running through my head were mainly focused on how I could most efficiently move from victim to victim while still providing each one with the care that they needed.”

Coffman says that athletic training students need to be ready for situations like this, because at sporting events (the traditional workplace setting for ATs), the possibility of a mass casualty event is always there. They are rare events, but they are discussed when creating emergency action plans, and ATs need to have the knowledge to triage and help victims in the most effective and efficient way.

RT student Casey Shepherd offered a slightly different perspective, given his different field of study. 

“Respiratory therapists offer unparalleled expertise in airway management, which can be life-saving in a mass casualty event,” Shepherd said, “Being able to respond to mass casualties is also part of being a well-rounded health care professional.” 

The simulation is meant to provide a more realistic experience than can be achieved in a normal classroom setting, which Shepherd said is necessary.

“The pressure and intensity of a live simulation cannot be matched in a classroom,” Shepherd said, “It’s important to physically practice these scenarios so that we have prior experience to rely on when the real thing happens.”

After all the hypothetical “victims” had been treated, the groups gathered together and faculty from all three programs helped lead discussions on what they observed that could have gone better and what they learned from the simulation.

Imani Conley-Frazier, an athletic training student said, “One of the main takeaways from the event was realizing how well my program has prepared me for situations like this. It also made me more confident in my skills and more confident to help out if I was ever in a mass casualty situation.”

Overall, the students seem to agree that it was a beneficial learning experience and a great way for students from across disciplines to connect, and the faculty from all three disciplines are already working to put on another similar event for students in the spring.