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Simulations: Safe Way to Move Caregivers From Training to Treatment

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
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Have you ever taken a course on CPR? If so, the instructor probably had you try out your new skill on a mannequin. During a CPR class I took, when I pushed down on the dummy to practice compression, I heard a click that indicated when I had pressed hard enough. The direct feedback allowed me to quickly adjust my technique so I could be on my way to saving lives (in theory anyway). Without even realizing it, I had taken part in simulation-based learning.

Healthcare simulation is not a new concept. As early as the 1960s, researchers, teachers, and medical professionals recognized the need for more advanced medical student training. Simulation creates a bridge between classroom learning and experience. Simulations can occur on a desktop monitor or on dummy patients with real-life human reactions; they replicate settings students will encounter, with the goal of improving the “safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of healthcare services,” explains the Society for Simulation in Healthcare.

Advantages of Healthcare Simulations for Learners

Simulation has clear benefits for education, assessment, research, and patient safety. However, there also are an abundance of benefits medical students receive from participating in stimulation learning.

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  • Wide Range of Learning Opportunities. Simulations enable medical students to experience both common and rare medical challenges they may face during their years of practice. Students can practice handling high-stake situations in a low-risk environment. The exposure will better prepare learners for the intense healthcare environment. 
  • Mistakes Are Okay. Accidentally injecting the wrong medicine into a patient could be a life-threatening situation—but in a simulation, no harm is done. When students see for themselves what does not work, they are able to adjust and try again. This trial-and-error process is a great learning technique.  
  • Customized Learning. Having trouble with handling cardiovascular emergencies or tending open wounds? No problem. Learners can practice specific skills sets until they feel confident enough to use them in a clinical setting. 
  • Advanced Feedback. Some simulation programs can gather data on students’ performance and give tailored, concrete feedback. As a result, students learn more than whether they did something right or wrong. They are able to see exactly what went well and where improvements can be made. This enhanced real-time feedback allows for incremental learning.

Challenges for Implementing Simulations for Healthcare

When considering incorporating simulation into a learning environment, there are several issues talent development officers need to anticipate.

  • Equipment Needs. You need the right equipment to make simulation training happen, which comes at a cost. While the gear for simulation learning is becoming less expensive as technology advances, you will need to adjust your annual budget to allow for material purchases, repairs, and updates. 
  • Teaching- and Learning-Culture Adjustment . While adapting a new technology can put healthcare educators at the forefront of innovative practices, some will not be open to the concept. Instructors need to adjust lessons, assessments, and techniques to accommodate the new equipment. A major mindset shift also will need to occur for students to receive the full range of learning advantages the simulation has to offer. 
  • Strategic Planning. Perhaps one of the largest challenges for implementing a new technology is creating a strategic plan to ensure success. Administrators will need to do their research to ensure that simulation-based learning methods have a strong return on investment.  
  • Lack of Precedent. With simulation learning constantly changing, it’s difficult to find what works best for your learners. With no set of guidelines or best practices, healthcare organizations may find themselves in uncharted territory.

Keys to Simulation Success

Take a cue from Dr. Michael Gordon, a pioneer in simulation use in healthcare: It all starts with curiosity. If you are considering the use of simulations during training, you must first learn all you can. What’s out there? What are people doing? What’s the best way you can integrate this technology into your learning practices? These are just some of the key questions to ask yourself during the initial stages of research.

Don’t forget to reach out to your healthcare community and beyond for advice. Dr. Gordon was able to advance the idea of medical simulation because he collaborated with ITT Technical Institute to make his vision a reality. Many universities and medical schools have already begun to incorporate simulations into their programs. A quick Google search will provide a number of examples.

Resources for Learning More

Simulation learning is a growing player in the healthcare talent development industry. Keep an eye out for advancements in the practice to ensure your students receive optimal training. For additional reading, check out these articles: 

About the Author

Clara Von Ins is the Human Capital Specialist at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Prior to working for ATD, Clara worked for the American Red Cross as the disaster program coordinator in Santa Barbara, California.


Clara received an bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in psychology and education. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill remotely to obtain a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis on nonprofit management and community and economic development. 

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