May 12, 2020

PPE course prepares more than 200 health-care workers for the coronavirus frontlines

Cumming School prof Ghazwan Altabbaa heads team offering refreshers to Calgary’s medical community
Dr. Ghazwan Altabbaa
Dr. Ghazwan Altabbaa, MD Julia MacGregor

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything our health-care system has seen before. Preparing for an increase in patient visits has compelled many retired health-care workers from a variety of backgrounds to return to an acute care setting after a long absence. Some doctors and nurses have also taken on clinical duties outside their usual practice in very unusual circumstances.  

To help ensure both groups are well protected, Dr. Ghazwan Altabbaa, MD, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a national leader in simulation training, is offering a refresher training course on the proper usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“If those who have stepped up to help become exposed to the virus and need to self-isolate, it defeats the purpose of them volunteering to work in the areas where assistance is needed,” says Altabbaa, who is also an internal medicine specialist and the director of clinical simulation at Rockyview General Hospital.

“For their safety, the safety of others and the sake of our health-care system, we need to ensure that they can practise and demonstrate standards of PPE techniques that are used during a time like this. The only proper way to do that is to use an experiential training modality which allows for on-the-spot feedback and coaching.”

Altabbaa teamed up with other simulation educators, the CSM’s Advanced Technical Skills Simulation Lab and Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development (CME&PD), along with infection prevention and control (IPC) professionals from Alberta Health Services, to deliver a PPE certification course in three phases.

Participants first completed an e-learning course and then attended a two-hour in-person session which included one-on-one training with an IPC professional followed by a simulation where they practiced donning and doffing — putting on and taking off — their PPE while caring for a “patient.”

The patient is a high-fidelity mannequin which is set up to require a medical intervention during the exercise. More than 200 health-care professionals have taken the course since it launched in early April.


High-fidelity mannequin used for training purposes.

Adrian Shellard

“During the simulation, each participant had to perform chest compressions on the mannequin for two minutes, which increased the physical and mental pressure,” explains Altabbaa. “This is where latent threats to their safety could materialize, leading to errors in PPE protocols — it is also where such difficult moments become wonderful discoveries for teaching and learning.

A physical task like compressions increases your body temperature, especially when wearing extra equipment, but simply pulling your mask off to cool down can result in major exposure to the virus.

"Here, this simulation exercise provided an opportunity for learners to be coached on how to think deliberately about what steps are needed to stay safe from the start to finish of a patient encounter and during a clinically intense situation.”

The CSM’s Office of CME&PD offers a wide range of courses to help health-care professionals refresh their knowledge of relevant clinical skills. If you are interested in taking the PPE certification course, please contact

“Designing simulation training is creative work,” says Altabbaa. “Such design considers available resources and the best creative integration of the different teaching modalities, while a simulation facilitator taps into learners’ pre-existing knowledge and skills and reapplies it in a way that provides context and clarity.”

Ghazwan Altabbaa is a clinical associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine, a certified health-care simulation educator and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. He is also an internal medicine specialist and director of the Rockyview Internal Medicine Simulation Program, which received accreditation from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in January 2016.

The Advanced Technical Skills Simulation Laboratory (ATSSL), is a state-of-the-art facility that allows medical trainees and practicing professionals the opportunity to acquire, practise and develop their skills in a safe learning environment. The ATSSL received accreditation as a Simulation Program from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in June 2018.

The Cumming School of Medicine’s Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development (CME&PD) offers a broad range of evidence-based learning opportunities to physicians, other health professionals and the public in a variety of formats including face-to-face, online and blended learning. You can help provide COVID-19 education, training and resources to health-care professionals by donating to the Office of CME&PD

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.