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Dr. JoAnn Crownover presents in at Grand Rounds.

‘Masking the truth’ builds better nurses, says creative-learning expert

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Written by Debra Melani on June 13, 2019

A surprise guest showed up to June’s CU Nursing Grand Rounds, following an announcement that the featured speaker — Assistant Professor JoAnn Crownover, DNP, — was running late.

Introducing herself as Lillian (“but you can call me Lilly”), an old woman told the group that she had bumped into CU Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez the other day and asked if she could speak to his faculty and staff.

“I want to thank you,” the woman said, her droopy eyelids and deep wrinkles revealing her advanced years. “I’m a retired nurse, and I want to express my appreciation for what you do.”

Dressed in baggy gray stockings and sensible black shoes and leaning on a cane, Lilly filled the time waiting for Crownover by sharing stories of her nursing past.

Surprise speaker infuses talk with humor

Lilly spent three years in nursing school living in a hospital basement, not a “beautiful university,” she told her younger colleagues. It was 1951, and she was 17 years old when she began caring for patients with her fellow students while in school. Their on-the-job training was payment for their otherwise free education, she said.

Imagine having only students running the hospital at times: “It was a bit scary, I suppose,” Lilly said, drawing one of a few laughs from her rapt audience.

“We used glass thermometers with mercury in them. One end was red and the other end blue,” Lilly said, explaining that the red was for rectal and the blue was for oral readings. “It’s funny I can remember that now, because in nursing school, I always got that mixed up.”

Warmth, sharing reels audience in

Turning more serious, Lilly talked of her husband (“he has the Alzheimer’s”) and late brother, who died of “the emphysema.” Lilly, her sentences punctuated with winded pauses, said she took care of her brother in the end. “He died a year ago. I miss him.”

After sharing anecdotes of her brother’s care in the hospital during the late stages of his disease, stories that focused on what a difference good nurses make in patients’ lives, Lilly thanked the audience and turned to leave.

But she didn’t go.

Instead, she peeled off a thick mask, revealing a much-younger Crownover. Although most of the audience knew about their colleague’s creative learning technique, there were a couple of audible gasps.

‘Masking’ the truth in the name of education

Crownover’s acting skills and high-grade, Hollywood-made, silicone mask (think Mrs. Doubtfire) fool most students the first time Lilly guest-speaks in the classroom.

Crownover brought the simulation technique called MASK-ED™ to the United States after meeting its founder, Professor Kerry Reid-Searl of CQUniversity in Australia, at a conference.

MASK-ED™ hides the educator with silicone props, transforming the instructor into a different character. “As the educator behind the mask, we can guide the learning process,” Crownover said. “We can kind of take scenarios where we need to go based on students’ reactions.”

Critical factors: history, realism

All characters have their own family and medical backgrounds created so that the educator can use that history in the classroom. For instance, Lilly has Alzheimer’s and emphysema in her family, and her granddaughter gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome.

The scenario must be realistic and the talk spontaneous, never scripted, Crownover said. “So for Lilly to come here today, there had to be a believable reason why — that she had met the dean.”

Realistic situation aids learning, mentoring

Students benefit from having the “patient” experience in the classroom, Crownover said. “Students have felt it really has built their confidence,” she said.

Having a character that is friendly, quirky and funny are tenets, so that the students feel at ease, Crownover said.

“The students enjoy it,” she said. “The education is authentic, and through spontaneous storytelling, it supports learning in a mentoring way.”

Topics: Faculty