Using simulation to teach healthcare professionals

Simulation can help healthcare professionals to enhance their knowledge, skills and attitudes in a safe environment. One of the best innovations we have introduced at Robert Gordon University (RGU) is the use of high fidelity simulation. This features an array of structured activities that represent realistic situations.

The students acting as patients know what is expected of them and, as a consequence, those practicing their skills don’t feel the need to provide the same level of explanation, patient care or attention to detail. This means that when they are faced with a real patient for the first time, it is a scary prospect.

The students acting as patients know what is expected of them and, as a consequence, those practicing their skills don’t feel the need to provide the same level of explanation, patient care or attention to detail. This means that when they are faced with a real patient for the first time, it is a scary prospect.

The landscape of teaching health and social care subjects has drastically changed over the past few decades. The rapid advances in technology have not only allowed educators to use better equipment, but given rise to entirely new and effective approaches to teaching.

Traditionally, healthcare students would observe demonstrations and develop their professional skills on their peers – before finally going into practice to assess and treat real patients. This long-standing approach however has its challenges, such as the lack of realism, which detracts from the learning experience.

 

This method has a long history, for example in aviation – watch the film ‘Sully’. In medical and nursing education, it enables students to practice practical and softer skills in a very realistic way, either with standardised patients or mannequins. The ability to train this way allows them to learn from their mistakes in a safe way, getting feedback to improve their performance, and meaning that the step up to working with real patients is a less daunting one.

The range of uses for high fidelity simulation in education is now huge. We use it across multiple professions – from physiotherapy to dietetics, occupational therapy to diagnostic radiography – and for developing practical skill performance, as well as clinical reasoning.

As an example, students can be provided with a set of notes for a patient – who is a volunteer member of the public, asked to behave in a particular way – and they have to assess the patient, before clinically reasoning what is wrong and performing the appropriate treatments.

At RGU, we have also undertaken an interdisciplinary ward simulation, with diagnostic radiography, occupational therapy, dietetics, physiotherapy, nursing and pharmacy students. Not only did they develop their teamwork and prioritisation skills, but it gave everyone involved a greater understanding of each healthcare worker’s roles.

At RGU, we have also undertaken an interdisciplinary ward simulation, with diagnostic radiography, occupational therapy, dietetics, physiotherapy, nursing and pharmacy students. Not only did they develop their teamwork and prioritisation skills, but it gave everyone involved a greater understanding of each healthcare worker’s roles.

In some instances, we have also been able to offer our students the opportunity to work with real patients in a university setting. For example, the creation of a student-led neurological rehab group. This group, supervised by a chartered physiotherapist, is run by physiotherapy students to provide rehabilitation to people in the community with neurological conditions.

Not only does this kind of simulated teaching give students a more effective learning experience, but we have also find that they love it. The realism helps them gain confidence in their own abilities, they can make mistakes in a safe environment and benefit from working together across disciplines.

But, most importantly, they have greater freedom to reflect. As one student told us: “You’re able to learn about yourself and what kind of anxieties you have going in, but can overcome them by just doing what you need to do. Or if you didn’t do things the best way, or things could have gone better, you can focus on what did go well and use the rest as a learning experience.”

Fiona Roberts

Fiona Roberts is Senior Lecturer and Teaching Fellow at the School of Health Sciences, Robert Gordon University.
Fiona Roberts

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