High-fidelity simulation labs don’t come cheap, with dynamic human simulators (or mannequins) running about $30,000 to $60,000 a pop. Yet, over the past decade, clinical simulation labs have become increasingly common in nursing schools—prompting some onlookers to wonder if the high-tech, costly equipment is really worth it.
Consider this: While the mannequins aren’t actual patients, they come pretty close to the real thing. Today’s simulation mannequins are available in a variety of ages, races and genders. They breathe. They sweat. They cough. They bleed. They talk. They react.
Or so they seem to.
And in some cases (involving industrious educators and an ample amount of limburger cheese), they stink, too—to better prepare nursing students for odors such as infected wounds, vomit and feces they will eventually encounter in actual practice settings.
Simulation mannequins allow nursing professors to control their vital signs from afar and to present nursing students with real-time changes in clinical conditions. Consequently, the student nurses are required to keep emotions in check and employ critical thinking as they react to the emerging situation before them.
Simulations labs are designed to set up nursing students for success when they transition to the work environment. Here are seven other aspects to appreciate about simulation labs.
Leaders in nursing education report a shortage of clinical sites for nursing students to practice in. Rather than slash student capacity as a nursing shortage looms, nursing schools are turning to simulation labs for hands-on clinical practice opportunities.
Most parents aren’t going to volunteer vulnerable babies for nursing students to practice their skills on. But dynamic infant simulators allow nursing students to practice techniques necessary in the NICU and postpartum unit.
Simulation labs offer nursing students freedom they wouldn’t have with actual patients. Rather than being overly cautious, students practicing on mannequins are able to act out what they think is best for the patient. If they’re wrong, no one gets hurt—and a valuable lesson can be learned.
“Sometimes I think people learn much better from their mistakes,” mused clinical associate professor Ann Marie P. Mauro, PhD, RN, CNL, CNE, in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Human Capital Blog about simulation labs.
Part of the simulation process involves nursing students later watching videos of themselves in different patient scenarios and then discussing what went right and wrong. Such objective debriefing offers valuable opportunities for learning.
The chances of a patient experiencing a heart attack or stroke while a student nurse is on a clinical rotation are pretty low, yet nurses still need to know what to do in such high-stakes scenarios. Simulation labs allow for as much experience with these situations as nurse educators deem necessary.
Practice might not make perfect, but it goes far in promoting patient care and safety. As Joan M. Cover, MSN, RN, CNOR, reflected in ADVANCE for Nurses, “[A]fter watching the student nurses interact in a typical simulation lab within a community college nursing program, I believe there may be a chance the increased simulation practice scenarios may lead to improved patient safety and reduce the risk of error and patient harm in the future.”
Students who replaced up to 50% of their clinical hours with simulation showed no less clinical competency or nursing knowledge than students who had traditional clinical experiences with no simulation, according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Nursing Regulation.
“In both [traditional and simulated] environments,” concluded researchers, "excellent student outcomes are achieved.”