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Public health (PH) and nursing students are an underutilized demographic in disaster response. Knowledge of the disaster response phase may enhance student understanding of preparedness, and provide response capabilities.
A single four-hour simulation-based training session, with toxicologists as instructors, can effectively improve PH and nursing student knowledge and skills in chemical and radiation response, despite minimal prior experience.
A convenience sample was used to test PH and nursing students in a response training program. An introductory lecture and simulation training reviewed: mass casualty care, triage, personal protective equipment, decontamination, and chemical and radiation exposure toxidromes. An examination was administered pre-training, and then post-training, to evaluate relevant training, knowledge, risk perception, and comfort in response capabilities to chemical and radiation incidents.
Forty-two students attended the course; 39 were included in the study. Seventy-two percent (n=28) of participants had no prior disaster training. Overall, there were significant differences between the pre-test and post-test scores for all students [95% CI: 5.4 (4.7-6.1); p<0.0001, paired t-test]; maximum score 15/15. Comparing scores of nursing and PH students, despite statistical difference in pre-test scores (median, IQR: 9.0 (7.5-10±2.0); 7.0 (5.7-9.0) respectively; p=0.048, Mann Whitney U-test), there were no statistical differences in post-test scores (median, IQR: 14.0 (13.0-14.0); 13.0 (12.0-14.0), respectively, Mann Whitney U-test). All students recognized nerve agent toxidrome and performed SALT triage after the training (p <0.0001, McNemar test). Subjectively, participant comfort level in responding to a chemical or radiological incident improved (p <0.0001, McNemar test). Individual risk perception for chemical or radiological disasters did not improve after training.
Improvement of knowledge and comfort was demonstrated, irrespective of previous experience. Simulation-based training of chemical and radiation disaster preparedness, led by medical toxicologists, is an effective means of educating PH and nursing students, with minimal prior fluency.
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