Simulation: The Future of Health Care Education

Dr. Jess Toussaint

Since the beginning of the early 1900s, educating health care professionals in institutions of higher education rather than hospital-based diploma and certification programs remained a long-term goal for many professions.

As the number of ‘higher education-based’ programs increased, so did the interest in integrative health care curriculum and the use of complementary and alternative practices. Examples of such practices included patient-centered care that focused on healing the whole person and integrating Western scientific medicine with a broad understanding of the nature of illness, healing and wellness.

From the Kardex, a folded card-stock roadmap to all things for the patient, and the electrocardiograph to high-tech simulation based assessment, the all-encompassing vision for education of health care professionals should be to deliver patient-centered care as members of an interdisciplinary team and emphasize evidence-based practice. The vision also recommended that a set of shared competencies across all health care professions, focused on patient-centered care, be required by regulatory bodies (State agencies and national accreditation review committees) governing education in various disciplines.

The term simulation, or simulator, as used in health care usually refers to a situation, or device, that represents a simulated patient (or part of a patient) and interacts appropriately with the actions taken by the simulation participant (student or instructor).

It has been said that the interest in simulation for health care has derived from the heavy use of simulation for training and other purposes in non-medical industries such as nuclear power production, commercial aviation and the military. If you think about it, health care simulators are comparable to the flight simulators that have become well known to you and me.

Simulation is used to improve the education and training of students by emphasizing conceptual knowledge and basic skills as well as introduction to real-world responsibilities and work to be performed. The use of simulation can be applied across nearly all health care domains including surgery, emergency medicine, critical care, radiology and obstetrics to name a few.

As Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee Community College, I envision the major role of simulation to be an educator, trainer and ‘rehearsal provider’ for those students actually preparing for working in the delivery of health care. Simulation is relevant during the didactic portion of curriculum as well as during any practicum, clinical or externship experiences. I also see simulation emerging as an important tool for on-going training of experienced, health care personnel.

Waubonsee Community College’s Aurora Fox Valley Campus (formerly known as the Copley Campus) houses high tech simulators and simulation applications for registered nursing and allied health students. From fully interactive adult mannequins and trainers to the pediatric and neonate mannequins, students can learn in a controlled and ‘clinical replica’ environment under the supervision of college faculty.

In addition, video conferencing and advanced networking allow college faculty to provide real time guidance and feedback to students while the simulation is going on. For the most complex use of simulation, the typical form of feedback is a detailed post-simulation debriefing session, often using audio-video recordings of the scenario. Waiting until the scenario is finished allows the Waubonsee Community College nursing and allied health faculty to apply their collective skills without interruption but then allows them to critique the actions, decisions and behaviors of students.

Simulation in health care education is approaching its 20 to 25 years of steady progress, and the current cohort of leaders in medical simulation and health care will be the significant participants in determining which direction the future history will take.

Dr. Jess Toussaint is the Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee Community College.