Sandpoint High School’s Health Professions program receives grant to purchase state-of-the-art BodyInteract virtual patient software By Christian Weaner
During the 2020-21 school year, when schools across the country were scrambling to give their students the best learning opportunities possible within the stringent COVID-19 guidelines, Sandpoint High School’s (SHS) Health Professions teacher Liz Smith hatched a humorous, yet effective, method to give her students hands-on experience. “One thing we did [during the 2020-21 school year]—we couldn’t go to clinicals [or] go to the nursing homes because of COVID—so we actually got drama students to come in and pretend to be patients here in the lab,” Liz laughed. “So that was fun.”
Now two years removed from her whimsical and creative idea, Liz no longer needs to rely on theatre students to provide realistic simulations of medical scenarios. Thanks to her successful application for the state’s Leading Idaho Grant, Liz’s students can now test their medical knowledge and diagnostic skills on SHS’s new state-of-the-art BodyInteract software—a virtual patient simulator that Liz believes will take her classes to the next level.
Liz and her family moved to Sandpoint 13 years ago. She has been working as a nurse for 20 years, and since arriving in Bonner County, she has worked at Kootenai Health in critical care, Bonner General in the emergency room and labor and delivery, and at a family health clinic in Sandpoint.
Teaching at SHS was not something that had been on Liz’s radar until 2019, when a friend who previously taught Health Professions classes at the school was leaving for another position and recommended the job to Liz.
“I’ve always loved teaching, and I saw myself in the future teaching nursing students,” Liz explained. “But I never thought I’d be at a high school.”
During her career, Liz had done some nurse precepting—supervising younger nurses during their clinicals—but this was her first time teaching in a classroom setting. At first, Liz said she was nervous, but she quickly settled into a successful Health Professions program at SHS that has existed for more than 30 years.
Sandpoint’s Health Professions students go through a three-year program, which begins with an “Intro to Health Professions” class during their sophomore year.
“That is more of an introductory class to what is expected in health occupations; what are some [career] options in health occupations,” Liz said. “We go through everything from dentistry to veterinarian stuff to emergency medicine, doctors, nurses—everything.”
Because many students do not know exactly what medical field they would like to pursue, the primary goal of the introductory course, Liz explained, is to expose her students to as many different professions as possible, giving them the chance to begin recognizing what their potential interests could be.
Liz said that she brings in many health professionals from the community—such as a doctor she worked with in the emergency room, an orthopedic surgeon, an orthodontist or a local paramedic—as guest speakers to talk to the class about what they do.
“I am a nurse, so [the students] get lots of nursing perspective from me, but I like to give them perspective from all the different health occupations,” Liz said.
In their junior year, SHS Health Professions students take Liz’s dual-credit medical terminology class, which is very physiology-based and overlaps nicely with the students’ other science courses.
“A lot of these kids are in anatomy and physiology at the same time, which is great because our classes sort of marry each other,” Liz said. “We coordinate to try and do separate labs and make it interesting for the kids.”
Finally, students who successfully go through the first two years of Health Professions courses and desire to continue in the program—approximately 20 students each year—can take a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class during their senior year.
Thanks to her extensive background in nursing and myriad of connections in the Sandpoint medical community, Liz’s CNA class goes above and beyond what the typical CNA experience would be for students at a technical school.
“They will go to the nursing home, and they learn the basic CNA skills,” Liz said. “Then we move to the hospital, where they get to shadow all the different health occupations at the hospital that they can.”
Most of Liz’s students take their CNA exam in the spring before graduation, and those who pass leave high school in a great position to succeed in their future medical studies after graduation.
“If they are neck and neck with somebody applying for the same position or the same scholarship or spot in a program, this program [at SHS] likely will give them the leg up to be the one that they choose,” Liz explained.
In addition to their training at the nursing home, Liz’s CNA students can participate in SHS’ first aid response team. These students receive first aid training from Bonner County EMS, and they take shifts— two students per day—being on call during the school day to help respond to first aid situations. They are supervised by administration, who encourage the students as they get hands-on experience diagnosing real-life medical scenarios.
“The kids will do a full set of vital signs, they’ll have to document what they did [and] what was happening, so it gives them lots of workplace readiness skills related to health care,” Liz described.
Every year, SHS’s Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA) club—which Liz leads—travels to take part in the state’s convention that takes place each spring. SHS students fundraise all year to attend the convention, which consists of competitions and seminars about everything from nursing to veterinary medicine to dentistry.
Liz had previously read about the BodyInteract software, and she noticed that BodyInteract was holding a competition at the 2022 convention, so she signed up all of her students to compete.
“I had read about [BodyInteract], and it was funny because I signed all the kids up for it even though they didn’t ask,” Liz laughed.
At the competition, BodyInteract stole the show, wowing Liz’s students and causing her to wonder how she could get the software for her own classroom.
“I just watched all these kids from all over the state work on this program to figure out what’s wrong with this patient and make the right intervention,” Liz remembered. “And I loved it. I thought it was so cool. The kids loved it, and they all wanted to do it again. And I thought, ‘That is super cool.’”
Upon returning from the convention, Liz did some research about how she could purchase the software. She came across Governor Brad Little’s “Leading Idaho” initiative—in which a total of $8 million of funds are distributed to high school career technical education programs across the state—and she applied for the grant.
“I had never applied for a grant before,” Liz explained. “So, some of my colleagues here helped me do it and proofread it for me. I applied for it and got it!”
Since receiving the software and equipment in October, Liz said her students have enjoyed using BodyInteract in the classroom.
“[My students] love it,” Liz smiled. “They are always saying, ‘Hey, Mrs. Smith, can we do a BodyInteract? Can we do a scenario?’”
BodyInteract runs on a 55-inch touchscreen monitor that sits on wheels, allowing it to be positioned either horizontally or vertically and easily moved around the classroom. Liz appreciates that the software has different difficulty settings, which can be tailored to the needs of her students, providing them with helpful scenarios to test their diagnostic abilities. BodyInteract also gives Liz the opportunity to see what areas her students are doing well in and what she might need to reinforce or reteach.
Ultimately, while bringing in drama students to act as patients was a novel idea that worked for a season, BodyInteract is not only a better simulator of medical scenarios, it is a tool that will allow Liz to lead SHS’s Health Professions program to continued growth in the future.
“It’s still pretend, but it’s more life-like and realistic,” Liz said. “I think that that is really going to open things up and get [the students] used to dealing with this type of technology.”