UAB ED nurses blaze path to national simulation championship

The volume of cases in the emergency department and the severity of the injuries seen by the staff provide a good training ground for nursing competitions.
Stream ED nurses NSC

A University of Alabama at Birmingham team has won a national championship. A four-nurse team from UAB Hospital’s emergency department took top honors at SIM Wars, an emergency medicine simulation exercise presented at Emergency Nursing 22, the annual meeting of the Emergency Nursing Association in Denver in October. 

“Training, education, constantly improving: Those are the cornerstones for outstanding emergency medicine,” said Frankie Wallis, senior director of Emergency Services at UAB. “We do a lot of simulation training at UAB, and we are proud of our team of nursing leaders who competed and won the SIM Wars competition. Better training means better care for our patients as our sim team brings their experiences at the national meeting home to our entire staff.”

The following description of the team’s championship run was published online on the website of the Emergency Nurses Association and is used here with permission:

For the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazing Blazers SIM Wars team, a few early curveballs only seemed to enhance the feel of an emergency department simulation.

At first, the team didn’t think they’d even be in the competition at Emergency Nursing 2022. They had been placed on a standby list and told to check in when they arrived in Denver.

When another team dropped out, UAB was in. They had about an hour to prepare.

After the first round, UAB thought they hadn’t advanced — the congratulatory email was stopped by a filter. Someone finally tracked down the team on Oct. 2.

UAB was in the finals. And it started soon.

Their team consisted of emergency nurse Mary McAllister, quality improvement coordinator Ashley Stallings, and nursing professional development specialists Tamicka Jones and Sarah Shipley.

“It shows how, if you have a great team, no matter the situation, you can overcome a lot of obstacles,” Jones said. 

But the victory wasn’t immediately obvious to the team.

They walked out of the finals thinking, “Man, we lost. That was terrible,” Shipley recalled.

Little did they know then that their unflappable teamwork had led to a championship.

In each round, teams faced 15-minute scenarios created by iSimulate from real ED situations. In round one, an intubated patient who had been transferred to the ED began to decompensate rapidly.

Jones, Stallings and McAllister would throw out possible causes, and Shipley quietly evaluated each idea, measuring it against what they knew, then relaying instructions to her teammates.

Members of the UAB team have known each other for six years, but they don’t work together day-to-day and only McAllister works bedside daily. But they fell together naturally, reading each other well and taking course changes in stride.

In the finals, UAB was surprised to find they were treating a human actor, not a manikin. He was traveling to high-altitude Denver and experiencing discomfort. Then a monitor started dinging.

Jones began asking the patient questions, gathering info. He flinched the first time McAllister tried to start an IV line, so she counted down on the second try to keep him calm. The UAB team kept listening to him and each other, circling around the issues.

At the last minute, the team figured out those dings: The patient had a left ventricular assist device. As they started to work on that, time was called.

Shipley was silent when the team headed for the seats. McAllister was sad. Jones was upbeat, telling everyone they did a great job. 

Turns out, Jones was right. 

They earned a plaque for their hospital, and their name will be engraved on a trophy displayed at ENA Headquarters. 

If UAB left feeling defeated, how had they won? Judges observed UAB had worked seamlessly together to put their patient in a position to survive a dangerous incident. Chris Kroboth, iSimulate clinical education manager, said judges are not looking to trick teams with granular details. They want to see communication, team management, attentiveness to the patient and avoiding big mistakes. In those areas, the UAB team was a blazing success. 

“They had a lot of passion and drive and quality,” Kroboth said. “It definitely showed through.”