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Agent-Based Modeling

A Method for Investigating Challenging Research Problems

McLean, Allen; McDonald, Wade; Goodridge, Donna; Osgood, Nathaniel

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000390

Background For all our successes, many urgent health problems persist, and although some of these problems may be explored with established research methods, others remain uniquely challenging to investigate—maybe even impossible to study in the real world because of practical and pragmatic obstacles inherent to the nature of the research question.

Objectives The purpose of this review article is to introduce agent-based modeling (ABM) and simulation and demonstrate its value and potential as a novel research method applied in nursing science.

Methods An introduction to ABM and simulation is described. Examples of current research literature on the subject are provided. A case study example of community nursing and opioid dependence is presented.

Results The use of ABM and simulation in human health research has increased dramatically over the past decade, and meaningful research is now commonly found published widely in respected, peer-reviewed journals. Absent from this list is innovative ABM and simulation research published by nurse researchers in nursing-specific journals.

Discussion ABM and simulation is a powerful method with tremendous potential in nursing research. It is vital that nursing embrace and adopt innovative and advanced research methods if we are to remain a progressive voice in health research, practice, and policy.

Allen McLean, MN, MSc, RN, is PhD student, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

Wade McDonald, BE, BSc, is MSc student, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

Donna Goodridge, PhD, RN, is Professor, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

Nathaniel Osgood, PhD, is Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.

Accepted for publication January 6, 2019.

The authors would like to thank Sally Thorne, PhD, RN, FAAN, FCAHS, and Bernie Garrett, PhD, RN, University of British Columbia School of Nursing, for advice and encouragement and The AnyLogic Company for generously providing the modeling software used to create our example models.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Corresponding author: Allen McLean, MN, MSc, RN, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, 5D40 Health Sciences Building, 107 Wiggins Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5E5, Canada (e-mail:

Online date: August 27, 2019

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