Actors from NYU Tisch Help MSW Students Hone School Social Work Skills
MSW Student Brittany Murray (left) engages in a simulated school counseling session with NYU Tisch student actor Vaheed Talebian (right) as Dr. Nancy Xenakis observes.
Having students actively engage with simulated patients in healthcare scenarios has been a traditional educational tool within medical specialties. Known as Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE), these trainings have increasingly been adapted for social work over the past decade, with Clinical Associate Professors Nicholas Lanzieri and Anne Dempsey among those leading the way.
“Live, actor-based simulations provide a level of authenticity that generally isn’t realized in student role-plays that are conducted in the classroom,” said Dr. Lanzieri. “Students are able to engage in developing skills with actors who are trained to respond as a real client would, in a low-stakes environment, where harming a real client is not possible. Further it provides students the opportunity to obtain in-the-moment feedback from Silver faculty and the actors. Engaging in such a constructive discussion leads students to more understanding about skills and the next steps of their professional development.”
Most recently, Drs. Lanzieri and Dempsey partnered with Dr. Gabriella McBride, Project Director of our School Social Work Training Academy (SSWTA), to bring the OSCE experience to SSWTA MSW students. This is part of a larger initiative, led by Drs. Lanzieri and Dempsey, to integrate simulation into the Practice curriculum. Drs. Lanzieri, Dempsey, and McBride hired and trained acting students from NYU Tisch School of the Arts to act as teens in live, simulated school counseling sessions with seven NYU Silver faculty observers rating the MSW students’ clinical performance.
“Simulations provide an opportunity for students to bridge the gap between theory and practice, focus on the use of self, set the tone for the development of a collaborative relationship, and examine how structural systems impact the day-to-day experience of students in our school system,” said Dr. McBride, whose doctoral capstone project examined the use of simulation and other pedagogical tools to develop anti-oppressive practice skills. “The work that Drs. Lanzieri and Dempsey are doing to bring this experience to students more widely is a really important pedagogical advancement.”
The SSWTA simulation was held between the first and second semesters of its specialized Social Work Practice course, which is focused on working with youth and families in school-based settings. It tested skills students had learned in class thus far.
The Tisch students portrayed a 17-year-old struggling socially, emotionally, and academically because their family was facing eviction and they were working off the books in a restaurant after school to pay rent arrears and preserve the family’s housing. The high school student hadn’t told anybody about the impending eviction because they were embarrassed, resulting in feelings of isolation and loneliness. They had been referred to their school social worker by a concerned 11th-grade teacher, who noted in the referral that the student expressed high levels of anxiety and stress, had falling grades and had become socially withdrawn.
In the simulated counseling session, the SSWTA MSW students were charged with engaging the teen in a therapeutic relationship, assessing the teen’s view of their teacher’s referral and their presenting needs, and developing a collaborative environment for shared goal setting. At the end of each session, both the actor and the faculty rater provided feedback on the MSW student’s engagement and assessment skills. The faculty raters also completed a detailed evaluation with written feedback.
“Students came in nervous about the experience and being assessed on their practice skills,” said Adjunct Assistant Professor Kelsey Louie, who served as a faculty rater. “However, what emerged was a sense of relief and excitement about the feedback received, which they can now integrate into their professional selves to better serve students in their practicum placements and careers.”