Health professions students learning how to manage aggressive patient behavior

Portrait of Anne Carrigg, a nursing student, in UNE's simulation lab. A patient simulator is behind her.
Anne Carrigg (Nursing, ’24) said the training gave her the skills to safely de-escalate potentially aggressive situations with her patients.

Students in the University of New England’s Westbrook College of Health Professions (WCHP) are benefitting from a new initiative that teaches them how to engage with and manage patients with aggressive behaviors.

Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB) training is currently being offered to students in the college, administered by staff from UNE’s own Office of Safety and Security. The training focuses on providing students the tools and resources needed in order to de-escalate situations within health care settings, which can place both providers and clients at risk for harm. 

Incidents of aggressive behavior on part of patients and their families have risen nationwide, particularly in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In Maine, such incidents often have little recourse and have even become the focus of a legislative task force — championed by Sen. Ned Claxton of Auburn and Rep. Anne Perry of Washington County, both of whom are retired health care workers — to study bringing criminal charges in situations of violence against health care workers.

Donna Hyde, associate director of nursing at UNE, said the training teaches students to avoid conflict and confrontation altogether and evaluates strategies to optimize the outcome of aggressive situations. What’s more, this type of training is typically reserved for health professionals upon employment, so participating students are better prepared to handle hostile situations before they even enter the workforce.

“Providing the training and certification while they are in the pre-licensure portion of their degrees offers both the students and our community partners benefits of increased awareness, effective interventions, and safety,” Hyde remarked. “Leadership, along with the Office of Safety and Security, are committed to addressing the personal safety of students.”

Students who participate in the training are taught about mental conditioning, non-verbal communication, personal space, reactionary distance, empathic listening, what to do when a situation worsens, and tactics to consider while maintaining personal safety.

Chad Stevens, associate director of Safety and Security, who facilitates the trainings, has been teaching and using MOAB skills for nearly 20 years. He said the best way to prevent a violent encounter is to recognize it before it occurs by de-escalating the situation or avoiding it altogether.

“MOAB provides critical information on how to recognize potential warning signs, reduce the likelihood of someone’s behavior escalating, and manage potential violent situations,” he said. “I highly recommend this course for anyone going into a health care field or wants to learn more about personal safety.”

To date, students in UNE’s nursing and occupational therapy programs have taken the training, which also allows them to earn the first of a two-part MOAB certification, saving them both time and their employers’ money when they start work. Students in UNE’s Master of Science Physician Assistant program are also slated to undergo the course.

Anne Carrigg (Nursing, ’24) said the experience equipped her with the tools she would need if faced with an aggressive patient, especially as she and her peers undergo clinical rotations.

“Situations that we are trained for in MOAB won’t wait for after we graduate nursing school, so it’s important that we are equipped with this training prior to graduation,” she said. “After this training, I feel that I would be able to safely de-escalate the situation and help the patient.”

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NEWS CENTER Maine’s Chris Costa recently joined a MOAB training and talked with students and faculty about the program’s benefits.