Rutgers University–Camden Trains Nursing Students to Identify People at Risk for Suicide

By Jeanne Leong

In a simulation suite in the new Nursing and Science building, students in a Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden class are learning to work with patients and help prevent suicides.

Using standardized patients, trained actors play the role of someone who may be at risk of taking their own life.

“The standardized patients are an opportunity for students to practice not only the suicide assessment but how to therapeutically communicate with patients and be comfortable being present with them,” says Mary Wunnenberg, an assistant clinical professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden.

“The actors did a really terrific job at making these situations seem real,” says Kevin Ziemba, of Haddonfield, a student in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing course. “I felt like I was talking to somebody that was representing what they said that they did.”

The interaction between the nursing student and patient are filmed, and following the session, students review the video with their instructors.

“We really try to focus on what the students did right and touch on ways that they can improve,” says Wunnenberg.

Mary Wunnenberg, an assistant clinical professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing?Camden, instructs students on how to work with patients.

Mary Wunnenberg, an assistant clinical professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, instructs students on how to conduct a suicide assessment.

“I got a chance to self-evaluate and do better next time,” says Adam Rotsides, of Wrightstown. “There’s always room for improvement regardless of how much experience you have.”

The training is especially important now. Recently, a report released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows suicide rates in the United States have risen nearly 30 percent since 1999, in both men and women, in all ethnic groups and in both urban and rural areas.

“You’re going to be dealing with psych issues in nursing,” says student Rachel Haber of Medford. “So I think it is important to know how to directly ask questions like, ‘Are you feeling suicidal? Do you have a plan?’ Knowing what to say, how to say it, how to approach people who are suicidal is super, super, valuable.”

Through their work using the standardized patients, the Rutgers University–Camden students are able to learn and observe a patient’s nonverbal cues and subtle clues to indicate to a nurse the seriousness of the situation and suggest the appropriate treatment for the patient.

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