Plymouth State University Conducts Interdisciplinary Trauma Exercise

CACREP is a member of the Health Professions Accreditors Collaborative, which promotes interdisciplinary training in the health professions. The following is an example of a training event that brought together several departments at Plymouth State University.

Plymouth State University – Disaster Drill Training Event

by Mike Mariska, PhD, NCC, LCMHC

On May 1st, 2019, counseling students at Plymouth State University’s CACREP-accredited Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) program joined students from the undergraduate nursing program for an annual Disaster Drill training experience. This marked the second year the counseling program had the opportunity to join this experience, which provides a unique opportunity to practice psychological first aid and crisis intervention in the wake of a simulated disaster. This event utilized students from a special, recently created Standardized Patient minor in the Theatre Arts program.

Emily Benton works to provide comfort to an injured Standardized Patient.

Standardized Patients are students trained to act as realistic patients for health education programs, and work with the Nursing, Physical Therapy, and Counseling programs to assist with training and testing opportunities. This program was started by faculty from the Physical Therapy and Theatre departments, and both Counseling and Nursing have joined to assist in its development and utilization. In addition to acting as patients, Standardized Patients are also trained in how to give effective and helpful feedback to the students who practice their skills on them. In all, ten Standardized Patients joined approximately twenty Nursing students, six Counseling students, and 6 faculty for the Disaster Drill, which was coordinated by Dr. Donna Driscoll from the Nursing department. The Standardized Patients used makeup, including fake blood and gruesome injuries, along with their formidable acting skills to portray the victims in the aftermath of a bombing at a medical clinic.

The Drill took place within the classrooms and clinic rooms shared by the Counseling and Nursing programs. It began with Nursing students responding to the site of the explosion, and performing initial triage on those who were injured. When the injured survivors were brought to the second location for further treatment and processing, Counseling students sprang into action and provided support. Dr. Mike Mariska, the CMHC program coordinator, served as the clinic director and directed students to patients and providers who needed assistance. A makeshift counseling clinic served as the third processing area. Once patients were cleared by the Nursing students, Counseling students would meet with them to perform an initial crisis intervention and plan future steps, including supports available to them and additional counseling appointments.

The experience became chaotic, even noisy at times, and students from both programs worked to create order and help as efficiently as possible. Special challenges included a young woman who went into labor, the death of two of the victims, and a panic attack by one of the medical responders. After two hours, the experience ended, and all involved gathered to process and provide feedback. The Counseling students involved were praised on their comforting and calming presence, and given helpful feedback on how they can better work with patients and healthcare providers during a disaster response. Plans for next year include the addition of more special challenges, and the opportunity for a Counseling student volunteer to act as the “director” for the counseling staff instead of a faculty member.

In processing the event, Counseling students shared their thoughts on the experience and its value to their training. Many noted that it was particularly helpful to have the chance to work alongside medical personnel, including Emily Benton who said, “It was so fascinating to work alongside the Nursing students and to see their talents at work. It felt really cohesive working with them and I think both sides did a nice job of feeding off the other’s energy and understanding when it was time to step in or to take a step back.” Others spoke to the realism of the event, and appreciated the professionalism shown by both the Standardized Patients and their fellow students. Alison Cole noted, “Within the first minute of the drill, everyone’s demeanor shifted to serious, professional, and caring; so much so that the drill felt realistic.” Ashley Lischinsky concurred, and said that, “The most memorable part of the experience for me was that the drill was very realistic and helped prepare me for an actual disaster.” Some reviewed the value of opportunities for learning that they’d not previously considered, including Scarlett Wu who said, “The interesting thing is that I found nurses also need emotional support at this time especially when some of them may suffer from vicarious trauma as the first responders.” All of the students shared that they felt this event will help them be better prepared to respond to a real disaster. Jennifer Mardin shared that, “This experience gave me confidence, that if something truly horrible does happen, that I’ll be able to keep my head and help others. It has made me feel prepared, and determined to keep training.”

Mike Mariska will be joined by adjunct professor Ryan Aquilina to discuss their experiences utilizing Standardized Patients in this training and the department’s Counseling Skills course at this year’s ACES conference in Seattle, WA. Their education session will be held at 12pm on Friday, October 11th, and will focus on how the Standardized Patient training program was developed, how this resource was incorporated into classroom experiences, how feedback was formulated and coordinated, and feedback from students on the value of these experiences in their training to become helping professionals. Dr. Mariska can be contacted via email at, and is happy to respond to any questions or comments.

Alison Cole applies psychological first aid techniques to two injured Standardized Patients.

Jennifer Mardin and Scarlett Wu do a crisis intervention with a medical responder

The “Sunnyside Counseling Clinic” team. Clockwise from left – Emily Benton, Bryan Haak, Alison Cole, Jennifer Mardin, Ashley Lischinsky, Scarlett Wu, Dr. Mike Mariska.