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All About Nursing Simulation: Insights from a Nursing Professor

What is Nursing Simulation?

Nursing simulation involves the use of high-fidelity mannequins, virtual reality, and other interactive tools to recreate lifelike patient care scenarios. Simulation allows you to practice clinical skills, improve your communication and teamwork abilities, and experience realistic patient care situations in a safe and controlled environment. I always tell my students that first and foremost, simulation is a learning experience- you will learn from your mistakes and from the things you do correctly.

Simulation scenarios can range from basic skills practice, such as taking vital signs, to complex cases involving multiple healthcare professionals and critical decision-making. The level of fidelity can also vary, with some simulations utilizing high-fidelity mannequins that can mimic physiological responses (they can cough, blink, breath, have blood pressure, give birth), while others may rely on standardized patients (live actors) or virtual simulations. Simulation bridges the gap between theory and practice, preparing you for the challenges you will face in real clinical settings and enhancing your overall competence as future nurses.

Depending on your program the simulation could be part of your grade, pass or fail, or part of your clinical hours. In all cases, your Professor will provide you with necessary pre-work, objectives, and expectations. You should not be going into simulation with zero idea of what to expect- if that is the case, consider a different nursing program!

What happens in Nursing Simulation?
  • Orientation- If it is your first time, your Professor should orient you to the space, the equipment, and the mannequin. How to take vital signs, how to call the health care provider, how to use the medication cart, the capabilities of the mannequin, where necessary equipment can be found, etc.

  • Confidentiality Agreement- You will be asked to keep everything that happens in the simulation confidential so that other students have the same experience as you.

  • Safe Space- The Professor will declare that you are in a safe place- to make mistakes, to ask questions, to not be ridiculed or punished, to learn without being afraid.

  • Pre-brief- The Professor will communicate the learning objectives, discuss the scenario, and establish guidelines and safety protocols. They will also go over any assigned pre-work related to the simulation. You can ask questions and bring up any concerns you may have. You will be assigned your role- Nurse, nurse assistant, charge nurse, recorder, observer, etc.

  • Simulation- The Professor will give "report" and you will be given a few minutes to prepare. You will enter the "patient's room" and begin the simulation. Nurses always begin by introducing themselves to the patient (and any visitors), and then perform a focused assessment and review pertinent labs and vital signs. From there you should follow the nursing process (ADPIE). Remember to collect all relevant cues, decide what is going on with the patient (they have an infection, they are unsafe, they are dehydrated, they are confused, etc.), determine the plan of action, implement (administer medication, notify the physician, change positions, etc), and evaluate (did your intervention work?). ALWAYS communicate with the patient, make them feel safe and heard. Work with your team!

  • Debriefing- After the simulation, you will reflect and discuss about what happened during the simulation, how you felt, what you felt you did well, what you wish you did differently, challenges faced, and what was happening with the patient. The Professor will guide the discussion to help you understand and learn from mistakes, as well as uncover your thinking behind correct actions so that you can apply what was learned to future patient care situations.

Benefits of Nursing Simulation:
  1. Safe Learning Environment: Simulation provides a safe space for you to learn and make mistakes without compromising patient safety. If you accidentally "hurt" your patient in the simulation, no one is actually getting hurt and when you encounter the same or similar scenario in real life, you will know what to do. Not only is it a safe place to make mistakes in patient care, it is a safe space to learn. Often, you will be recorded and are being watched, so it can make you very nervous and even act in ways you normally wouldn't. This is why I always emphasize that students will not be punished or made to feel bad about what happens during simulation.

  2. Bridging Theory and Practice: Simulations offer realistic scenarios that mimic the complexity and unpredictability of actual patient care settings, bridging the gap between classroom learning and clinical practice. It allows you to apply theoretical knowledge to real-life situations, enhancing your clinical reasoning and decision-making abilities.

  3. Teamwork and Communication: Simulations often involve collaborative care, requiring you to work together as a team. This fosters effective communication, coordination, and interprofessional collaboration, essential skills for delivering quality patient care.

  4. Immediate Feedback and Reflection: Simulation provides immediate feedback through debriefing sessions, allowing you to reflect on your performance and identify strengths and areas for improvement.

How does Simulation Impact Patient Care?
  1. Improved Competence: Simulated experiences help you develop clinical skills and confidence, leading to improved competence in real clinical settings. If the simulation is about something you've learned about, but never experienced before, you might be unsure of what to do. So you do your best to take care of the patient. Then during the debrief, you learn whether what you did was correct and safe, and will be confident in knowing what to do in a real life setting.

  2. Enhanced Patient Safety: Simulation enables you to practice procedures and interventions without putting actual patients at risk, contributing to improved patient safety outcomes.

  3. Standardized Training: Simulation provides a standardized training platform, ensuring that all students receive consistent learning experiences and are exposed to similar scenarios and challenges. There is only so much learning that can happen at clinical sites where students are at different units, encountering different patient populations, working with a different clinical instructor and every student has a different patient. With simulation, every student encounters the same patient and meets the same objectives for learning in a controlled environment.

Nursing simulation offers a powerful learning tool that prepares you for the complex and ever-changing healthcare environment. By combining active learning, critical thinking, and hands-on experiences, simulation bridges the gap between theory and practice, enhancing competence, teamwork, and patient safety. As technology continues to advance, nursing simulation will likely play an increasingly vital role in nursing education, shaping the future generation of skilled and compassionate nurses. Take full advantage of this learning experience! It is OK to make mistakes- just promise you will learn from them!

Do you have other questions? Let me know in the comments!

Good luck!

Professor C.


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