Facing the flu: College students across Arizona get ready for a potential outbreak

Published: Oct. 25, 2019 at 10:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A simulated flu pandemic will challenge nearly 600 students from the University of Arizona Health Sciences, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University as they learn to collaborate across professional lines while tackling the logistical, social, psychological and ethical issues that may arise during an infectious disease outbreak in Arizona.

The event is part of “Pandemic: An Exercise in Disaster Preparedness,” a live interprofessional course conducted by the UA Health Sciences Center for Transformative Interprofessional Healthcare to prepare students in the health professions, law and journalism for team-based responses to public health emergencies.

By combining skills and knowledge from different disciplines, the program teaches students to work as teams to achieve the common goal of improved patient care and health outcomes. Team members learn each professionals’ roles and responsibilities and how to collaborate on a foundation of shared values and mutual respect.

More than 400 students in Tucson and more than 160 in Phoenix will work with faculty facilitators in teams representing eight Arizona communities and the state Emergency Operations Center. The teams will use each community’s actual demographics to deliberate a variety of disaster scenarios relating to a flu pandemic, including triage and allocating limited resources in the face of overwhelming need.

The exercise will address preparedness and response, the roles and responsibilities of different professions and agencies that respond to a pandemic, and the importance of coordination and teamwork in preventing and controlling the spread of disease.

Participating students will be from the UA Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix, Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, James E. Rogers College of Law and School of Journalism; the ASU T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics and School of Community Resources and Development; and NAU Occupational Therapy Doctorate program.

Pharmacy student Ajla Mujezinovic is one of the many students who participated in the Tucson program. She said teams butted heads the most when it came to handing out flu medication.

“Some of us agreed that people should be treated right away," Mujezinovic said. “While others looked at someone who’s going to keep the lights on so they need to be treated to make sure they stick around. So it’s different perspectives your looking at.”

That's all part of the lesson.

"There’s not much resources, what they find is there’s nothing else coming and they need to share but there’s not going to be enough for everybody so they have to make some decisions.” said Margie Arnett, interprofessional education specialist at University of Arizona.

It’s not a far from reality, either. Arnett said the threat of this type of outbreak is something medical professions need to be ready for.

“We’re so global, people fly every single day and can easily infect more than a plane and can bring it to the new city they’re at,” Arnett said.

It might all be a part of a simulation but the program brings up real-life questions, like how Tucson would respond in this situation.

Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th U.S. surgeon general and distinguished UA professor, said the city is ready to take on something of epidemic proportions.

“Whether it is a flu pandemic or it’s a mass casualty event, Tucson has always been on the forefront of EMS (emergency medical services) because of the relationships of our fire departments, police departments, hospitals, and we practice this year round,” Carmona said.

For now, this flu pandemic is being played out on paper. But, the lessons students learn will reach far beyond classroom walls.

“I think the most important thing they’re going to learn today is how mutually dependent they are on each other in an emergency,” Carmona said.

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.