Several years ago, my colleagues and I participated in a media training seminar. We were given various scenarios with no time to prepare and were required to answer while being videotaped. Not only was this a lot of fun, but it also enabled us to practice public speaking skills in a safe place. The same type of learning experience is available in the clinical setting through the use of sophisticated computerized simulators to help teach nurses and other healthcare providers.
Simulators have been available in other industries for decades, but it's just within the last few years that they've been used in nursing, medicine, and other healthcare professions as an adjunct to the academic curriculum. This new teaching technique allows students to work through clinical scenarios by appropriately assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating care provided in a setting that can't hurt an actual patient.
Simulation training can also build confidence, enhance learning and retention of material, and ultimately provide a safe environment for the patient. Most students rave about this type of learning because it reduces stressful situations that often occur on the nursing units. Simulation training provides opportunities for students to gain clinical experiences that they wouldn't typically attain in a real-life situation.
This technology is extremely sophisticated and it feels very much like caring for a real patient. The teachers who use this equipment must be highly educated to produce scenarios based on real-life clinical situations. The faculty must not only be technologically proficient, but they must also have a solid clinical background to employ this type of teaching and learning style. Faculty must stay current with evidence-based care and protocols and consistently implement new findings into the simulation learning environment.
Many faculty and educational leaders have discussed replacing real-life clinical hours with simulation. Although the technology is highly sophisticated, it should be used as a precedent or adjunct to real-life clinical experience — not as a replacement. An outstanding model for this type of learning is the aviation industry, in which both simulation and actual flying time are consistently used in the curriculum. No matter how sophisticated the educational technology, it should never replace the experiences that students need to have in a real-life clinical setting. Students must live, breathe, and feel the culture of a healthcare organization. If clinical hours within a real-life situation are cut, graduating students may have an even more difficult time adjusting to the work setting.
It's imperative that we implement human simulation training for nurses and other healthcare professionals. If implemented appropriately, students will have a fulfilling experience... but don't forget the art needed to care for a real patient!