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Healthcare Simulation: A Key to the Future of Medical Education

Medical simulation training builds on strategies used in other high-demand fields, such as aviation. After all, pilots in training would never be allowed solo in the cockpit of a multimillion dollar aircraft when they are just learning to fly. Rather, they use computer-assisted simulations to practice the skills they will need in order to keep themselves, their crew, and their passengers safe.

Best of all, these simulations can emulate the unpredictable and changing conditions in which aviators may find themselves, allowing student pilots to experience how a physical aircraft would respond to their actions. This teaches them faster and better than any textbook or class lecture what to do—and what not to do—safely.

The same principle applies to medical simulation training. It allows students to learn clinical skills by simulating procedures on virtual humans. Best of all, students get to practice their skills without worrying about harming patients or damaging medical equipment – or even needing equipment in the first place.

Simulation training enables students to learn the essential steps of a new skill before proceeding on to more nuanced techniques. Thus, students may use simulation training to practice the proper angle at which to insert a syringe during a blood draw or to learn the correct positioning of the transducer during an echocardiogram.

Simulation training is so effective because it is as close to the real thing as possible.

There is simply no other learning method available today that allows students to get a better sense of what the actual procedure looks, sounds, and feels like, before they do one in real life. Nothing else can prepare learners for the challenges of learning to distinguish between important physiological landmarks or pathology, and meaningless acoustic clutter on an ultrasound screen. Nothing can better prepare future clinicians for the difficulties of performing venipuncture on the arm of a squirming toddler.

With simulation, students can fail without risk. They have the luxury of making mistakes while they’re learning—so that when the time comes, when they stand before a living, breathing patient, they get it right. Simulation provides students the gift of experience, at a cognitive level, so they are confident and ready when they come to perform the actual procedure for the first time.

However, simulation isn’t just for students and junior professionals. Seasoned practitioners benefit from the simulated practice as well. New medical and dental technologies emerge every day, so even the most established healthcare providers are constantly learning, developing new skills and refreshing old ones that they have not performed for a while.

Online medical training, particularly web-based simulation, provides nearly limitless opportunities for professional development. With this type of technology, learners can practice on their own time, at their own pace, and with a focus on the particular skills most important to them.

Who Can Benefit from Medical Simulation Training?

The simple answer: everyone. The reality is that, just as no two patients are the same, no two learners are the same either. No matter the student’s individual skill level, their learning needs are unique. The old ways of teaching simply can’t meet the individual needs of students.

Traditional strategies for teaching clinical skills are aimed toward the so-called “average” student. But the “average” student just doesn’t exist. After all, every allied health class and cohort of medical students is made up of individuals, not statistics. One-size-fits-all education strategies no longer suffice.

This is yet another reason why simulation training is so important. The reality is that one instructor alone cannot possibly provide personal, individualized instruction for a typical classroom of students.

Lectures, videos, readings, and demonstrations certainly have their place in the medical classroom. However, when it comes to instrumentalized learning, to students actually being able to do what they’ve been taught, nothing can compare to hands-on practice.

Unfortunately, without simulation training, students rarely get a chance to practice these skills. There simply is not enough access to instructors or to clinical practices spaces to give every student the time they need to acquire these skills. Not just this, but it’s also just not practical or ethical to subject others to unnecessary, sometimes painful, and even potentially harmful procedures solely for the sake of practice–not when effective alternatives are available.

Another thing that makes medical simulation so exciting is its adaptability. Learners can customize the technology to fit their own learning needs and preferences. Education researchers have identified four primary learning approaches: textual/visual, or learning by reading; graphic/visual, or learning by studying images and graphics; auditory, for learning by listening/hearing, and kinesthetic/tactile, for learning by touching and doing.

Past theories posited that individuals might learn better through one particular style that suits them best, but it is now known that no-one fits neatly into a single learning style. People learn most effectively through a blend of methods, to engage different parts of the brain, and what matters most is what strategy predominates and when. What works well at one stage of the learning process may not work as well at another. Think about it—when you are first introduced to a challenging skill, you may start to learn about it by hearing it carefully explained to you (auditory) and watching an overview video (visual). You then begin to explore images, diagrams, and other graphics for more detail (graphic/visual). After that, you may turn to the written description of the material (textual/graphic) to check your understanding before trying at last to put the new skill into practice (tactile/kinesthetic).

Hence the power of using simulations for medical and dental training. A well-designed simulation product uses each of the four principal learning strategies to meet students’ needs at every stage of the learning process. At any point in time, students may choose to study 2D images and 3D models; they may read procedure descriptions and assessment explanations; they may watch procedures being performed and hear them being explained, and then they may practice them in real-time, on highly realistic 3D anatomical models.

After all, learning isn’t a straight path from introduction to mastery. There are twistings and turnings, advances and steps backward. A comprehensive medical simulation product allows for this non-sequential learning process. No matter where students may be in studying a particular procedure or skill, they can always return to an earlier phase or skip ahead to a more advanced level.

Modern simulation technologies allow students to listen to step by step explanations, watch demonstrations, study models, or practice techniques whenever they want, wherever they want, and as many times as they want. This creates a learning experience that is not only highly individualized, but also fully immersive, promoting content mastery and retention.

Medical Simulation and Lifelong Learning

Whether you are a student dreaming of a career in medicine or dentistry, an emerging clinician just embarking on a new career, or an established professional with years of experience under your belt, if you find yourself in the field of medicine or allied health, then you know that learning never ends.

Health care is an ever-evolving field. Professional success means keeping pace with the rapid advancements made every day in medicine and dentistry. This is often far more easily said than done, however. Most professionals simply don’t have time to commit to traditional, brick-and-mortar training programs, let alone the associated travel and time away from work. Likewise, for current students, the demands of their training programs are often simply too much to enable them to pursue other development opportunities.

Online medical training programs have flourished in recognition of this growing need for customizable, on-demand training for working professionals and busy, often overwhelmed, students. E-learning programs enable students to train at their own pace and on their own schedule. Many of these even offer program and course certifications, allowing learners to benefit not just by acquiring a new skill, but also by building their professional credentials.

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