Simulated patient experiences get a lot of acclaim for their ability to allow nursing students to test out and improve their hands-on clinical skills with no threat to a real, live human. And that is a pretty wonderful aspect of modern-day nursing education.
But don’t sell simulation short. Virtual “patient” care offers benefit beyond learning hard clinical skills.
By practicing on computerized patients, students can hone soft skills, too (think communication, empathy and attitude, which are all essentials for patient satisfaction). With practice, students can bring these important bedside skills up to a level that’s worthy of their future professional title.
At Union College, Lincoln, NE, nursing instructors use their simulation laboratory not only to reinforce clinical skills, but also for students to learn appropriate bedside manner in a realistic, hospital-like setting.
Teamwork, critical thinking, communication and other soft skills (which can be ambiguous to teach without on-the-spot training) are polished through experiences in the sim lab. Instructors monitor students via “control rooms” located alongside patient rooms. They also have the ability to record sessions for playback later.
“With most of our unit-based scenarios, we have simulators and live patients in the bed and a family member sitting at the bedside,” adjunct nursing instructor Amy Golter told The Lincoln Journal Star. “They can interact with the manikin to do things like give medications, do procedures that we wouldn’t want to be doing on a live person.
“But on the person, they can do things like communication and the actual human interaction.”
Virtual patients, or computer-based human-like avatars, were used in a recent study by nurse educators looking to assess nursing students’ empathy communication skills during health history interviews.
“Similar simulated educational environments have shown that clinicians and trainees suspend their disbelief and effectively immerse themselves in the flow of virtual communication,” the authors explained. “As a result, simulated educational environments provide the benefits of training using standardized patients while fully controlling for similarity of patient responses and behaviors.”
Interestingly, researchers found that out of 9 possible information disclosures from virtual patients that warranted an empathetic response, nursing students recognized just a third of them. While students tended to express empathy when a patient mentioned pain or the death of a close family member, disclosures such as a lack of health literacy and poor diabetes management received few empathetic comments.
Pointing out that high-level empathetic communication can improve patient outcomes, the authors concluded that education targeting empathetic communication skills in nursing programs is needed.
At Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck, NJ, sim lab director J. Cedar Wang, MSN, RN, GNP-BC-CHSE, wants to broaden educational offerings to include cultural awareness.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘How do we treat people in a culturally intelligent way?’” Wang said in an interview with NorthJersey.com. “I believe valuing each individual and understanding that every patient comes from a unique place is the next level of diversity training.”
If her vision is realized, healthcare professionals at the hospital will have a safe place to refine this soft — yet extremely relevant —skill and emerge all the better prepared to care for a diverse range of living, breathing patients.
What are your thoughts on the use of nursing simulation tools as a means to hone ‘soft’ skills? Leave us a comment below!