Victor Frankenstein recounts how he “infused a spark of being into the lifeless thing at his feet”. The idea for the VAST Course sprouted in July 2017 and for months, it existed only on my hard drive. Without the enthusiasm and support of the team around me, there is no doubt that VAST would still be a lifeless entity. With the financial support of CASIEF and Dalhousie University, we were able to commit to piloting the course in Rwanda in January. In late December, the series of subfolders and files materialised into a set of tangible printed materials, resources and VAST paraphernalia. The great unknown was how all of this would transform into a 3-day simulation course.
We were off to an auspicious start. The first thing our eyes were drawn to at the Rwanda Military Hospital (RMH) Simulation Centre was an expansive banner heralding the piloting of the VAST Course. The months of meticulous preparation, testing, refinement and co-ordination were over and it was time to launch the first of three pilot courses. Throughout VAST, we focus a lot of attention on anaesthetists’ non-technical skills. Our team had to draw heavily on these same set of skills to effectively launch this project.
In the months leading up to the VAST Course, Patty had on several occasions referred to us (Michelle, Christian, Patty and I) as the ‘dream team’. My initial concern was to wonder if had to settle for the role of the “Hick from French Lick” aka Larry Bird. Come game time, despite never having together before worked in this capacity, we functioned like a well-oiled machine. The first pilot course was underway and we were running two parallel groups through the various components of the course. Michelle behind the scenes, setting up rooms, Patty and Christian riffing off each other in debriefing sessions and I taking the helm of facilitating and debriefing the other group. It wasn’t long however before the line-up of the dream team was to get some fresh faces.
Stewart was certainly a prized recruit to the team. After a quick ‘pre-season’, namely the VAST Facilitator Course, Stew held a firm place in the starting five. In fact, by pilot week three, he was the front runner for MVP, having to step his responsibilities when other key players were out due to illness and a late season trade to the Butare Black Mambas. Rotating strongly off the bench we also had an injection of talent from our trainee facilitators. With some ongoing coaching from the side-lines, these ‘trainee’ members of the team were soon more than pulling their weight, running and debriefing sessions following the VAST playbook. More on the surprise recruit, Laurence, later.
No team can function without an extensive support network. Daily buffets at both RMH and CHUK hospitals kept our energy levels high. The team transport was dutifully and punctually conducted by Alphonse. Christophe at the CASIEF apartment was working overtime ensuring our team uniforms (scrubs) were cleaned and pressed ready for game time each day. In all of this, like in any well-functioning team, there was a real sense of camaraderie and common understanding that developed amongst the team members.
There is a lot of focus in VAST on managing complex tasks, particularly on how to assess and organise available resources. Day 1 of the first week of the VAST Course is now a bit of a blur. The unknown of the mechanics of the running the course were playing out in front of us. Fortunately, we had the invaluable resource of Michelle to draw on. With Michelle at the helm co-ordinating set up and changeover between scenarios, the rest of us were able to focus on the other tasks of session delivery and mentorship of the trainee facilitators.
Many of the decisions regarding course logistics and design had been set in stone months in advance. There was opportunity however for some on the fly experimentation with order of sessions, timings of breaks and finer details of how some sessions were to be conducted. This helped to maximise our short period of time with participants and to promote a favourable learning environment.
One key decision that was suggested to us early on by Dr Paulin was the inclusion of Laurence, the sim centre co-ordinator from CHUK hospital. Laurence joined Michelle from early on in the first week of pilot courses, shadowing her every move and learning from the best. By the start of the second week of courses, Laurence was setting up stations and preparing the rooms for subsequent scenarios. Come week 3, Michelle was back in Canada and Laurence stepped up to the plate to independently run the ‘back of house’. An unexpected highlight was to watch Laurence spring to action on academic following the completion of the VAST Course pilots. Patty had tasked the residents with designing their own simulation scenario and within moments Laurence had the equipment set up in the same systematic manner in which we organise the gear for the VAST Course. This is just one example of what we have now seen as some of the ripple effect of the VAST Course…positive implications that are extend beyond our initial set of objectives.
Language posed one of the key challenges to conducting these pilot courses. Whilst English is the official language in Rwanda, there is a transition from French and ubiquitous use of Kinyarwanda. Our participant group was also not uniform in their level of English. Being aware of this dilemma was of crucial importance. As much as possible, we encouraged Christian to deliver his sessions in French/Kinyarwanda. For the rest of us, it was important to take the time to meter our pace of speech, allow for translation and explanation amongst the group. It will be important that once the course materials are finalised post pilot, that we make the effort to translate resources and as much as is feasible, deliver of the program in a more ‘comfortable’ language.
It is still hard to come to terms with what has been achieved over the months leading up to and piloting the VAST Course. Certainly, there have been lots of lessons learned. Components of the course can be tweaked, elements that we should dedicate more attention to and some less effective components that can be pared back. In essence however, we are chalking down the previous few weeks as a great success. There is an encouraging amount of local support and endorsement of the project moving forward from both official channels and from participant feedback. The next exciting steps will involve refinement of the course and conducting formal evaluation of future courses delivered. I wholeheartedly thank everyone that has been involved to date with this project and am certainly looking forward to the future of VAST in Rwanda and beyond – January 2018