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Interactive TIPSY program helps teens make safer choices

Toronto, October 12, 2018

By Mary Dickie

Student volunteers in the simulation lab run through what happens when resuscitating a patient
Student volunteers in the simulation lab run through what happens when resuscitating a patient.

Helping teenagers lose their assumptions of invincibility, face the realities of traumatic injury and learn to avoid risky behaviours are the aims of a popular educational program offered through the school year at St. Michael’s Hospital.

The ThinkFirst Injury Prevention Strategy for Youth (TIPSY) takes high school students on a tour of the St. Michael’s trauma bay to see what trauma victims actually experience. The program includes graphic videos, personal stories of trauma and frank discussions around death and disability.

A collaboration between St. Michael’s Trauma & Neurosurgery Program and the Allan Waters Family Simulation Centre, TIPSY offers interactive sessions with critical care and emergency nurses, simulation teams, Toronto Police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as well as a talk by an individual who has sustained a brain injury and experiences numerous challenges. It encourages the students to see that trauma is not glamorous, and to think twice before taking risks.

St. Michael’s treats approximately 1,000 trauma patients a year. Motor vehicle crashes and falls are the main cause of injury, and distracted driving, especially texting, has now surpassed alcohol as the leading cause of collisions.

“We start the day by having everyone look up at the screen and watch a video where people in a movie theatre are watching a person driving a car, as if they were in the car. All of a sudden everyone’s cellphones go off and they all look down — and they hit a tree. The students are shocked, and their expressions change. It’s frightening,” says Elizabeth Butorac, interim program director of Trauma/Neurosurgery. “Texting is a hard habit to break, but people have to do it. You are 25 times more likely to be in a crash if you’re texting.”

View this gallery on St. Michael's Facebook page.

View this gallery on St. Michael's Facebook page.

Butorac and her late colleague Julie Mauceri started the TIPSY program in 2006, and in 2014 the team added activities at the Allan Waters Family Simulation Centre, which allowed the program to be more interactive. There, students participate in a hands-on trauma simulation scenario using a high-tech manikin.

“Six student volunteers and one of us go into the simulation lab, and we run through what happens as we’re resuscitating the patient,” says Vasuki Paramalingam, interim clinical leader manager and one of TIPSY’s coordinators. “As part of the scenario, the team lead gets called away. We send in a very upset family member, and the students have to attend to him. They love it, because it’s very interactive.” Indeed, a recent study found that 97% of the students who submitted TIPSY evaluations thought the simulation centre exercise was an effective learning tool.

Young adults, ages 15 to 19, are at the highest risk of being killed by motor vehicle collisions, the leading cause of death for this age group. These collisions can also leave survivors with permanent breathing or feeding tubes, and no control over their bladder or bowels.

TIPSY presents the consequences of risky behaviour through videos and speakers telling personal stories. “One was a 19-year-old who crashed his car while speeding,” says Butorac. “He now lives in a wheelchair, and his mother had to quit her job to take care of him. It’s affected his whole life, and his family’s life – and students can relate to that, because it hits home.”

Paramalingam says it’s gratifying to see the program’s effect on the students by the end of the day-long session. “When they first come in, they are hesitant and wary,” she says, “but by the end of it you can really see their faces change.”

“Some of the students feel lightheaded, because it can be overwhelming,” admits Butorac. “But we really want them to understand that there are consequences to everything they do and every decision they make. We talk about more than alcohol and driving. We discuss drugs, texting and driving, distracted driving, helmets, seatbelts, water safety and many more relevant materials. We give them tangible information so they can make better choices — and not end up here.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

St. Michael’s Hospital with Providence Healthcare and St. Joseph’s Health Centre now operate under one corporate entity as of August 1, 2017. United, the three organizations serve patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education.


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