Health May 12, 2013
MASK-ED: This Woman Has Been Called The "Patch Adams" Of Nursing

Photo: Via Peter Lawrence, The Guardian

In the spirit of the Lone Ranger, "Who is that masked woman?"

It's Kerry Reid-Searl, associate professor and assistant dean at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Central Queensland University in Australia.

And as part of her job, she frequently goes undercover - pioneering a teaching method where she's disguised as a patient.

It sounds like a bad movie premise, but her MASK-ED program is designed to give medical students as real a learning experience as possible.

To do that, Reid-Searl becomes a character - throwing on everything from silicone suits and masks, to torsos and hands and feet.

Her masked alter egos (pictured below) include 'Raymond Leftfeld' (a shy fellow with a speech impediment), 'Muriel Mona Moore' (a matron), and 'Cyril Smith' (a retired butcher, born in 1932).

Photo: Central Queensland University

As Reid-Searl puts it, "I suit up and walk into the conference, get up on stage and start playing with the microphone. People in the audience are thinking: 'Who is this and what are we going to do with this poor old gentleman?' I start talking about my prostate problems and a recent incontinence conference I've been to - and then I peel off the mask."

The whole idea, she says, is to expose nursing students to the realities of patient care and build their confidence in dealing with things they might find uncomfortable in a hospital.

Reid-Searl's outfits are quite pricey, costing as much as $4600. They're also very elaborate, with bladders, wounds and pubic hair. They can even have a catheter put in and be injected.

Photo: Patient 'Cyril' from Australia Nurse Teachers' Society

And by playing the character herself, as opposed to using an actor, Reid-Searl says she can capitalize on "teachable moments".

Colleagues have described her as the "Patch Adams of nursing" but no one can argue with her experience - 30 years as a practicing nurse, countless speaking engagement offers and an armful of teaching awards (including Australian Nurse Educator of the Year, Vice Chancellors Teaching Excellence - Central Queensland University, and Faculty of Science, Engineering and Health Teaching Award).

"The characters are very real to me," she tells The Guardian. "I spend a lot of time refining them, practicing the voice in the shower or while I'm driving."

Her MASK-ED techniques are taught not only by her colleagues but also at six other Australian universities, several private health groups and at Colorado State University.

Professor Reid-Searl is currently testing a new design of silicone puppets that will teach students how to treat children. Maybe she'll be the Jim Henson of nursing next.


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