News Page


RMU Nurses Get a Dramatic Education

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pittsburgh – It sounds like something from an episode of “Seinfeld” – actors portraying patients to help student nurses learn how to diagnose illness.

But it’s serious work, so much so that The Hearst Foundations designated part of a $100,000 grant to the medical simulation center at Robert Morris University to fund the so-called standardized patient program. That’s the name of an increasingly popular method of health care education in which trained actors take on the role of patients.

The grant will allow RMU Colonial Theatre director Ken Gargaro to train actors in the university’s theater program to present symptoms to student nurses, who will gain experience diagnosing disease as well as interacting with patients and their family members. This summer, actors portrayed adolescent patients for the pediatric assessment course in RMU’s doctor of nursing practice program.

Gargaro previously worked in the standardized patient program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“What we proved is that the actors were adept at creating a real situation that allows the medical professionals to suspend their disbelief. Only actors can do this sort of thing, being truthful within the case history that they are given, and allowing medical professionals to practice on them in a heightened situation that prepares them for the real world,” said Gargaro.

The bulk of The Hearst Foundations grant, $75,000, will allow the Regional Research and Innovations in Simulation Education (RISE) Center at Robert Morris purchase another mannequin for its simulation laboratory. The center uses highly realistic, computer-controlled mannequins to allow students and health care workers to train safely before they gain experience with living patients.

Currently, the laboratory is housed in RMU’s John Jay Center, but the university plans to construct a 19,000 square-foot facility for the Regional RISE Center. That project has already qualified for $5 million under the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

“We will have better trained health care providers in the Pittsburgh region and provide better care to our patients. That’s the bottom line,” said Valerie Howard, associate professor of nursing at RMU and director of the Regional RISE Center.

The Regional RISE Center is developing partnerships with local health care facilities, including St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, to allow medical workers to advance their training. 

"St. Clair Hospital is very excited to enter into a relationship with Robert Morris University and the Rise Center to enhance the care process for the patients we serve through simulation activities particularly focused on inter and intradepartmental communication during rapid response teams," said Holly M. Hampe, vice president and chief quality officer of St. Clair Hospital.


The Hearst Foundations are national philanthropic resources for organizations and institutions working in the fields of education, health, culture and social service. Our goal is to ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive and inspiring lives.

The charitable goals of the Foundations reflect the philanthropic interests of William Randolph Hearst. The Hearst Foundation, Inc. was founded in 1945 by publisher/philanthropist William Randolph Hearst. In 1948, Mr. Hearst established the California Charities Foundation, renamed the William Randolph Hearst Foundation in 1951. Both Foundations are national private philanthropies operating independently from The Hearst Corporation.

The two Foundations are managed as one entity, sharing the same funding guidelines, leadership, and staff. Staff based in the headquarters in New York City review all proposals from organizations located east of the Mississippi River, and staff in the San Francisco office review requests from organizations west of the Mississippi.

In addition, the Foundation administers two operating programs, the United States Senate Youth Program and the Hearst Journalism Awards program.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.