An actor from Teater Scratch along with nursing students at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Erica Lång View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Effective using actors in teaching

Published: 3 March 2017

Having actors enact as patients and their relatives is effective when teaching nursing students in psychiatcric and elderly care, a new study from Luleå University of Technology shows.

– It is important that we evaluate and research the education we pursue. Our teaching must be based on evidence in the same way that healthcare should be evidence-based, says Åsa Engström, professor of nursing.

She and lecturers Johanna Sundbaum and Anja Söderberg have studied 60 nursing students' reflections after meetings with patients and their relatives enacted by professional actors.

Nursing students at Luleå University of Technology have since 2014 had classes in psychiatcric and elderly care where they meet professional actors from Teater Scratch, who act as patients and their relatives.

Detailed instructions

The actors have received detailed patient descriptions and instructions about body language, behavior, and what to when they act as patients with various diseases. In small groups, a nursing student at time, meet the actor in his role, while the classmates observe the situation.

– We see that students very easily to empathize with this teaching. They perceive the situations as authentic. By creating a safe learning environment we can enhance nursing students' understanding of complex symptoms and situations, says Anja Söderberg.

Johanna Sundbaum says the study (recently published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing) shows that the meeting with the actors raises a lot of emotions among the nursing student, but also put their skills to a test. – The students get an understanding of how important it is to have a great knowledge of various medical conditions to  be able to the help patients in the best way.

The study among the 60 nursing students shows that the patient cases touched them emotionally. The students described empathy as the strongest feeling they experienced. 

Training in various skills

The meetings also provides practice in dealing with difficult situations

– The exercises with the actors give good training in "non technical skills"; to talk, teach and coach the patient, says Åsa Engström.

Photo: Sofia Stridsman
Johanna Sundbaum, Anja Söderberg and Åsa Engström. Photo: Sofia Stridsman
Åsa Engström

Åsa Engström, Professor and Head of Subject

Phone: +46 (0)920 493875
Organisation: Nursing, Division of Nursing and Medical Technology, Department of Health Sciences
Johanna Sundbaum

Johanna Sundbaum, Lecturer, Holder of a chair

Phone: +46 (0)920 493836
Organisation: LTUMVO, Division of Health, Medicine and Rehabilitation, Department of Health Sciences
Anja Söderberg

Anja Söderberg, Lecturer

Phone: +46 (0)920 491062
Organisation: Nursing, Division of Nursing and Medical Technology, Department of Health Sciences

Link to the study: