Rows of small cots and stacks of IV trees cloud the room. Victims with smoke-charred faces and blood-covered fabrics scream for immediate medical attention. Stretchers chug through the lobby as the cries of pain echo off the crisp, white walls.

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That was the scene March 22 at the Brazos County Expo in Bryan as the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Nursing hosted Disaster Day. This emergency disaster simulation teaches students to work under high pressure and chaotic situations. More than 170 students from nursing, College of Medicine and Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy participated, along with Blinn College nursing, radiology and EMS programs.

This year’s scenario featured a structure collapse, and more than 300 patient-actor volunteers were used during the simulation. A special type of makeup, called “moulage,” was applied to volunteers to mimic severe injuries.

Event planning was left in the hands of students Jasmine Bohlender and Julie Roman as incident commanders, faculty advisor Jerry Livingston, and a number of small committees.

“We put on Disaster Day to empower our students. I may help them with their questions, but I never hold their hand to show them the answer. They have to find that on their own,” said Livingston, M.S.N., RN.

Bohlender and Roman formed student committees to help find volunteers, sponsors to donate food, select case studies for the patient-actors and obtain medical supplies. But once the big day came, all eyes were on the practicing students.

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“In class, we’re never assigned more than two patients. But at Disaster Day, we were assigned three or four patients each,” said nursing student Ann Phillips.

The fast pace and unknown nature of the patient’s condition can present many challenges along the way. In some cases, students have not yet experienced a certain type of case study, requiring them to learn on their feet.

“One of the volunteers in my area went into labor as part of her scenario. We haven’t covered labor in school yet, so I had to call over a medical student for help,” Phillips said.

More than 75 first-year students assumed the role of patient-actors and saw Disaster Day from the other side of the stethoscope.

“You become a better nurse when you’re put in the position of the people you’re serving. It makes what you do seem more realistic,” Bohlender said.

From symptoms that appear out of nowhere to wailing children, this high adrenaline experience is authentic to an actual disaster. The pressure these students experience in each 1.5-hour session can push them to their limits and test their mental toughness.

“I almost forgot that they were medical students.  They already looked like real nurses and doctors,” Dillon Livingston said. “And that makes me feel safe. Because I know that one day they’ll be taking care of other people.”

— Kendall Cherry

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