Realistic medical simulation has expanded worldwide over the last decade. Such technology is playing an increasing role in medical education not merely because simulator sessions are enjoyable, but because they can provide an enhanced environment for experiential learning and reflective thought. High-fidelity patient simulators allow students of all levels to “practice” medicine without risk, providing a natural framework for the integration of basic and clinical science in a safe environment. Often described as “flight simulation for doctors,” the rationale, utility, and range of medical simulations have been described elsewhere, yet the challenges of integrating this technology into the medical school curriculum have received little attention.
The authors report how Harvard Medical School established an on-campus simulator program for students in 2001, building on the work of the Center for Medical Simulation in Boston. As an overarching structure for the process, faculty and residents developed a simulator-based “medical education service”—like any other medical teaching service, but designed exclusively to help students learn on the simulator alongside a clinician-mentor, on demand. Initial evaluations among both preclinical and clinical students suggest that simulation is highly accepted and increasingly demanded. For some learners, simulation may allow complex information to be understood and retained more efficiently than can occur with traditional methods. Moreover, the process outlined here suggests that simulation can be integrated into existing curricula of almost any medical school or teaching hospital in an efficient and cost-effective manner.