Published: June 12, 2015

MSU head coaches get 'coached' in medicine

Contact(s): Geri Kelley College of Human Medicine office: (616) 233-1678 cell: (616) 350-7976, Sarina Gleason Media Communications office: (517) 355-9742

Earlier this week, Michigan State University head coaches gathered around a patient – a computerized manikin that breathes, has a pulse, reacts to treatment and, in some cases, dies – to learn what it means to be members of a different kind of team – one that comes together on a moment’s notice to work efficiently on a critical, often life-saving task.

Each year for the past five years, the university’s athletic coaches have held team-building exercises. This time, they found themselves experiencing a team situation through the eyes of medical students and physicians. These individuals, who spend their days teaching football, tennis, golf, wrestling and other sports, were taught how to monitor vital signs, defibrillate a heart and do other emergency medical procedures.

The goal? To become better communicators with their players and to support each other, something Mark Hollis, MSU's athletic director, is instilling in all of his coaches.

“My goal is to have my coaches have each other’s backs as a collective team,” he said.

The day started with dividing participants into two teams. Half spent time interacting with patients and doctors at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Butterworth Hospital, while the other half learned what it’s like to treat a critically ill patient in the College of Human Medicine’s simulation lab. Later, the two teams traded places.

From head football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo inserting an airway on the patient to wrestling coach Tom Minkel and hockey coach Tom Anastos administering chest compressions, everyone performed a task in an effort to work together and save a life.

The experience also gave the coaches the opportunity to learn and express compassion and sympathy when needed.

In a nearby room, an actress portraying the patient’s wife awaited word on her husband’s condition, which unforunately ended in death. Cynthia Gardiner, a patient relations consultant at Spectrum Health, prepared women’s tennis coach Simone Jardim and women’s rowing coach Matt Weise on how to communicate regrettable news to family in a empathetic way.

After the simulations ended, each team gathered with the medical school professors and administrators that also participated and reviewed the case, much like physicians do in real life. 

This gave everyone a chance to talk about what happened, the roles they played and what they learned from the experience.

“Going through these debriefing sessions is one of the most important things we do, because we can learn from that for the next time,” said Aron Sousa, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Human Medicine. “We do the best we can. We can’t save them all.”

Hollis agreed.

“There are so many messages we’ve learned today, and now we can go back and do a little better job.”