School of Health Sciences students engage in Essential Conversations for Caregivers

March 24, 2023 learners from the accelerated bachelor's in nursing (ABSN), physical therapy (PT), and physician assistant (PA) programs gathered to hear the story of a local caregiver, problem-solve from their professional perspective, and role play essential conversations for caregivers of special needs children.

Hearing the perspectives of others is a powerful means of educating, healing and repairing the world around us. When the story being told is that of a mother caring for a child with special needs and the story is being told to health science learners, the impact can be multi-fold.

Pre-professional learners who experience these types of learning activities are now prepared to consider the needs of the patient, the caregiver and the caregiver’s support network. They are also prepared to weigh their own words and consider the impact of how what they do and say as healthcare team members affect, directly and indirectly, the end users of the health care system: patients and families. This generates graduates prepared for the daily challenges of healthcare who are also prepared to be advocates for those without a voice.

ABSN2023 student, Taylor Mellow, engages in question and answer with guest speaker, Melissa Groves

Essential Conversations for Caregivers is an interprofessional training program sponsored by the School of Health Sciences Interprofessional Practice and Education (IPE) Committee. The program hinges on the research of Melissa Scales, associate professor of physical therapy, and Dianne Person, director of Elon’s Anatomical Gift program. Additional collaborators have included Professor Monica Burney (Human Service Studies), Nita Skillman (SHS Interprofessional Simulation Center) and Kim Stokes (PA Studies).

In this engaged learning activity, approximately 100 future nurses, PTs, and PAs participated in a listening session followed by a question and answer with our guest speaker. Then, a design sprint was utilized to allow learners to process their individual thoughts, feelings and means of support for this population. Following the design sprint, learners worked in interprofessional teams to theme their thoughts and identify a common question.

In the last hour of the activity, learners participated in two role plays where they learned the value of having each team member’s perspective and that the health care team includes the patient’s caregivers.

Person began the work of Essential Conversations (formerly, “Crucial Conversations”) in 2019 as a collaboration with Elon PA program focused on end-of-life discussions. Since then, a series of Essential Conversations collaborations have taken place in the School of Health Sciences related to end-of-life care, difficult diagnoses, and patient-centered interviewing. ‘

This includes the work with Scales (PT), Tracey Thurnes (PA), Charity Johansen (PT), Tiffany Morris and Jacqueline DeBrew (Nursing). When an opportunity for interprofessional learning is available, it is ideal.

This year’s guest speaker was Melissa Groves, mother of Jackson Groves, a child with a diagnosis of Angelman Syndrome and parent advocate. She has guest lectured at Duke University’s School of Medicine on the importance of healthcare providers partnering with parents & caregivers.  Her expertise in navigating the health care system, communicating with health care providers in the care of her child, and educating healthcare providers brought a rich experience to the students in Elon University’s School of Health Sciences. Groves has a passion for bringing the “human” side of patients and caregivers to different audiences in the hopes it will make providers consider the whole child during treatment,  not just a child’s diagnosis.

The work of one interprofessional team displays the themes identified in their processing and consideration of the needs of caregivers.

This year’s facilitators included Scales, Stacey Thomas (ABSN), Stokes, Paula DiBiasio (PT, SHS IPE committee), and Bethany Fearnow (simulation center, SHS IPE committee).

Feedback for the learning experience is positive and the School of Health Sciences plans to host the learning activity again in the following years. To date, this educational activity centered around Essential Conversations has led to multiple presentations for SHS collaborators, both nationally and internationally.