LGBTQ, Provider Communication Skills, Substance Use 01.26.2021

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How a School of Social Work Has Embraced Simulation Technology

How are schools of social work using simulation technology to train their students? We chatted with Dr. Noell Rowan, a professor and associate director at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Social Work, to tell us more about her experience with Kognito simulations.

Social work simulation - UNCW

Tell us about yourself and your research areas in social work.

My research areas are with older adults, with people with substance use disorders and addictions/mental health, as well as with members of the LGBT community.

How does simulation translate into social work training, and how common are they?

Dr. Noell Rowan, UNCW School of Social Work
Dr. Noell Rowan, UNCW School of Social Work

When I started at UNCW in 2013, I was from a different university where we weren’t using any simulations except for with standardized patients. When I came to UNCW, I was really impressed with the School of Nursing which had a state-of-the-art simulation center. And so, I immediately wanted to find out more about it and began partnering with face-to-face simulations. I’m very intrigued by experiential learning, and interprofessional teaching is something we do often at UNCW. I think it’s really the smarter way to go to teach with interprofessional teams in simulations as a way to prepare to provide more efficient healthcare in the real world once people graduate.

I had been interested since the beginning of my time at UNCW in how to join forces with nursing, gerontology, and recreation therapy programs on how to prepare future healthcare providers in social work, gerontology, recreation therapy, and nursing. Before coronavirus, I was doing in-person, face-to-face simulations around cultural awareness and culture sensitivity. I brought in actual members of the local older LGBT communities to teach cultural sensitivity and assessment and brief intervention for nursing and social work teams of students. There were live simulations with local community people who acted out either healthcare scenarios that they had dealt with or ones that they created. We trained them on how to engage, build rapport, do brief assessments, and interventions and it went well.

How did you hear about Kognito simulations? How have you incorporated them into your coursework?

Kognito came into play this past year because the SAMHSA CSWE grant gave us access to SBI with Adolescents which has brief intervention practice and some motivational interviewing in there. I have used that in two of my classes: my introductory course on substance use disorders and addictions that has undergraduates and graduate students in social work in it. We would like to enhance our offerings of virtual simulations in undergraduate practice, graduate human behavior and social environment class, as well as field seminar courses, as well as into our certificate program in substance use and addiction for graduate students that I oversee.

I require every student in the introduction to addictions class to complete the Kognito simulation. So, they go into the Kognito system and register. They have to pass it with a score of 70. And then they upload the certificate with their score, and that’s part of their grade for my class. That works beautifully. The students have loved it, because it’s something new and different and they can do it from home during COVID.

What sorts of skills can simulation training provide to students in social work?

I think it’s a really good way of helping the confidence level of a student that’s about to go out into the field face-to-face. Or it could be before they go on a Zoom telehealth practice session. Some of our students are doing Zoom in their practice agencies because of COVID. It can be really scary for our students to walk out there and greet clients for the first time and remember all the things that we taught them about – confidentiality, how to engage, how to establish rapport, all of that.

The Kognito simulations can help students to feel more confident when they reach an actual client or client system or family or organization.

How has the pandemic affected your program? What has it meant for face-to-face simulation practice?

Kognito: SBI with Adolescents for Social Work
Try a demo of SBI with Adolescents here

We have had to be very creative. Our school of social work is very heavy in clinical skill building for our graduate students. We’d like to use Kognito simulations to offset some clinical practice hours. And so, this is very timely and very helpful to us in terms of providing something else in addition to the clinical supervision and the Zoom practices that they’re having to lean on in order to get actual practice experience.

We would like to continue to use Kognito simulations for quite some time because we think it’s a good way to help students learn from a virtual world how to engage, how to assess, and how to do a brief intervention that’s evidence-based.

What’s a strength of your program that you want to share with other schools of social work?

One of the reasons I love working here at UNCW is that we have a dean who strongly encourages collaboration across disciplines. It’s an incredibly ripe opportunity to engage with people who in reality social workers are going to be working with. It is crucial to learn how to work well and use the strengths of the other professions to extend what you can deliver in both mental health and healthcare.


Dr. Noell Rowan is a professor and associate director at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington School of Social Work. As of 2015-16, she was promoted to full professor and has created the Substance Use Disorders and Addictions Program within the School of Social Work to assist both MSW students and community providers with enhanced education in this specialty area. Since 2016, she has served as the associate director for the School of Social Work.

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