Dear Nursing Student: Would you rather change a bedpan or administer meds?
The first time I was introduced to the “sim-lab,” I can tell you—I had reservations.
I hadn’t heard much about simulation experiences. It seemed almost like a taboo topic (or maybe I just wanted it to have some mystical appeal so I wouldn’t feel as if I were being robbed of a “real” clinical experience).
Either way, I wondered: Would the sim-lab just be a bad re-creation of a science-fiction movie or is it cutting-edge teaching technology?
I decided to get the most out of this alternative form of education now that my nursing school class was selected to participate in a study that pitted simulation against clinical exposure—which one created better nurses?
For starters, I’d heard students’ stories of their first semester of clinicals, and I can tell you, I was highly underwhelmed. It sounded to me like the grunt work of Nursing 101. It was the first time students were exposed to patients in an actual clinical setting, and how they fared ranged wildly. Although there were students who got to sit in on surgeries and circulate ICU, there were just as many who only got the chance to change bedpans the whole semester!
Here’s what happened during my semester: I made it through my first code, my first home visit, my first medication administration, my first encounter with a patient in septic shock. I also got to watch a DNR take its course and was exposed to patients with airborne pathogens—and it was all simulated. When it was over, I was certain I had made it through with enough clinical experience to SAVE THE WORLD! Okay, maybe not to that extent, but I had become extremely confident in my abilities.
Simulation turned out to be an experience that pushed me to think more critically as a nurse. My fear is that clinical settings often only allow you to shadow or follow a nurse on her rounds; rarely do they allow you to play the role of the nurse entirely. In simulation, you are the nurse. Every time I stepped into that simulation room, I went into adrenaline mode. It honestly felt like the life of this robot was in my hands!
Our simulations even included “family members” played by my fellow students (some of whom deserve daytime television award nominations!). Yes, the crying daughter, or the girl in my lecture class, can still invoke a sense of urgency closely resembling what you would actually experience in a clinical setting.
I’m extremely proud of how much my clinical group accomplished. Our simulations went from looking like a community clown academy’s dress rehearsals to Grey’s Anatomy in just one semester.
If you were to ask me now what I think the outcome of the study is going to be, I would say that there is a certain set of skills that, until demonstrated, are not learned. I think simulation training will produce more efficient and proficient nurses than clinical settings alone.