When I began nursing school, I pictured my senior practicum in an emergency department, not as a virtual simulation. Much like myself, many nursing students across the country have lost clinical placements or clinical hours, which have been replaced with online scenarios. When COVID-19 entered our lives, many of us had no idea of the radical changes it would make to disciplines across the world. Students in high school and college not having graduation ceremonies, employees forced to work from home, and of course, the devastating impact on the hospitals and hospital staff everywhere.
Through 4 weeks of simulations, my attitude, along with my appreciation of online learning, grew and changed. Initially, I saw simulations as a sloppy substitute for learning the real skills required for nursing practice. However, the demanding scenarios quickly changed my idea of what it means to practice nursing.
Does the online format allow for experiential learning? Not physically, but it does allow students to have clinical experiences, while keeping those involved safe through isolating at home. With limited options available during this time of the pandemic, simulation clinicals are an excellent alternative. In some ways, simulation can be superior to an actual clinical experience. In hands-on clinical experiences, much of what is learned depends on the availability of patients on the unit and procedures that need to be completed during the student’s shift. In the simulation laboratory, the student has the opportunity to learn from a skilled professor in high-stress scenarios, while receiving immediate feedback on their work.
The significant drawbacks of clinical simulations are the preparation time and personnel necessary. However, with an unrecognizable world moving progressively towards us, many nursing programs are seeing the immense value of online systems. Simulations allow colleges and universities the peace of knowing their programs can continue through online portals, regardless of any event. And there have been increasing calls for nurses to specialize in this practice.
From a student perspective, it can be frustrating when trying to become competent in a new subdivision of education that differs from how we have been taught before. I have found that it is vital for students to keep an open mind and have supportive professors.
It quickly became clear during my senior class’ first round of simulations that encouraging feedback is critical for a student’s continued success. Harsh feedback rapidly became the downfall of certain simulations, but professors who gave praise along with constructive criticism forged a supportive environment for students to ask questions while learning from past mistakes. Although instant feedback can be beneficial, it can also be overwhelming for students who just endured a high-stress simulated reality of a patient coding. When students are given constructive criticism through guidance instead of harsh commentary, they are more likely to respond to ideas and acquire new knowledge. Through my time as a new simulation student, I felt deep disappointment in myself one day and excitement for the now available knowledge the next. The major difference between these outcomes was the professors who guided the simulation.
Virtual simulations offer the potential for new stimulating learning opportunities, which have been linked to improved patient safety outcomes. Although frustrations will occur early on due to technology alterations and expectation modifications, these feelings of annoyance will fade. Students may resist the unconventional clinical setting at first, but combined with encouraging professors and supportive staff, they will quickly see the justification for the new e-learning. And ultimately, simulation-learning laboratories will be able to be included with on-site clinical experiences. The bottom line is that simulation, when correctly implemented, is profoundly beneficial to students.
Madison Germuska is a bachelor of science in nursing candidate at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.