How Clinical Simulation Labs Play a Vital Role in Nurse Training

Clinical Simulation Labs Play a Vital Role in Nurse Training

When it comes to nursing, preparation is everything. After all, when a nurse steps into their first position, they know full well that at any time, they could have the life of the patient in their hands. For this and many other reasons, nurses need to receive practical, hands-on experience before they go into clinical work. As one of the first opportunities for trainee nurses to practice hands-on medicine, clinical simulation labs are a crucial part of a nurse’s preparation and development. But how do they work exactly, why are they so important, and how are they evolving to meet the needs of nurse training in the 21st century?

In this article, we look at the main uses of clinical simulation labs, the importance of practical education in nursing, and the role that technology can play in this kind of training. We also examine the best kind of degree for prospective nurses to develop a thorough understanding of hands-on medicine, the importance of experience and lifelong learning to the nursing profession, and the kinds of skills needed to succeed in this career.

A Crucial Step

Learning to become a nurse is a challenging but hugely rewarding path as the student progresses from someone with little or no experience in the medical world to a highly trained healthcare professional, ready for any situation. One of the most important stages or tools in a nurse’s training career is the opportunity to use a clinical simulation laboratory, sometimes known as a clinical simulation center. Clinical simulation labs are essentially rooms that replicate all of the conditions of a typical emergency room, intensive care unit, operating room, or even labor and delivery room. The only difference, of course, is that they are designed purely for training purposes, and are not used to treat real patients.

Instead, special simulation mannequins are used. The type of mannequin will vary depending on the particular scenario that needs to be practiced. For example, if a trainee nurse is learning how to assist a male adult who is suffering from a heart attack, they will be presented with a mannequin that has the requisite characteristics, while all the relevant equipment and technology will also be made available. The kind of equipment found in a clinical simulation laboratory can include almost anything that would be found in a real medical setting, from IV pumps and defibrillators to gauzes, stethoscopes, and blood pressure monitors. The student nurse may also be asked to practice other elements of their profession, such as consulting or entering electronic medical records.

Generally, clinical simulation labs are used on virtually all undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and also many additional training courses. Many hospitals will be fitted with a clinical simulation lab that can be used to introduce new procedural techniques to the physician or nursing team, for example. In each case, the principal use is the same: to enable the medical professional to practice providing hands-on care with a procedure that they may not be completely familiar with in a realistic setting but without the need for the presence of a real patient or medical emergency, where there is no space for error or second attempts. Naturally, the absence of a real-life patient also makes it much easier for the instructor to observe the student’s work and to point out any mistakes or areas to improve.

Structured Scenarios to Aid Development

Of course, while some less urgent and less invasive procedures (performing a general physical examination or taking someone’s blood pressure) can be much more easily practiced with a willing patient and careful observation, others, such as giving birth or dealing with an acute injury, cannot. For this reason, student nurses usually – though not exclusively – use clinical simulation laboratories to practice urgent healthcare for more severe issues, where it would not make sense to start them off with a live situation. Even then, serious preparation is required – the first step almost always takes place in the classroom. Prospective nurses are given a chance to learn about the background scientific information of a particular disease or condition, such as the physiological causes, typical symptoms, and potential courses of treatment.

Clinical Simulation Labs Play a Vital Role in Nurse Training

Once inside the center, the nurses will first undergo debriefing, where they are provided with information about a given patient scenario. This stage gives the students the chance to ask any questions they may have, while the instructor may also remind them of the standards to be maintained, and the typical hazards or pitfalls they should look out for. Next, the students undergo a simulation scenario, where they work on a case study in the lab, usually with a patient simulator or actors. The scenarios have specific learning outcomes and are usually recorded for further analysis. Finally, the students typically enter a debriefing room, where they can reflect on their performance, including areas where they performed well or would need to improve, and also receive further advice and instruction from their trainer.

The Advantage of Hands-on Learning

Clinical simulation labs form the perfect opportunity to practice hands-on care in a safe and secure setting. Although simulation labs give students the chance to work under pressure in a realistic scenario and with genuine medical equipment, particularly if they are being observed by a senior health professional or an examiner, they are also able to make mistakes without putting any patients at risk. Also, students have the chance to evaluate their work objectively, often watching a video replay of their actions, and they can learn by observing the actions of their peers in the same setting.

Students also have the opportunity to get used to working as part of a team – generally, there will be more than one person involved in the simulation, and working together will be an important part of the scenario. Here, communication is crucial, and once again students can see what works and what doesn’t. In other words, students can discover the best ways to put forward their point of view clearly and objectively, and without alarming real patients in the process. Overall, this kind of simulation can be an extremely valuable learning opportunity, where prospective nurses can gain a genuine understanding of what it takes to carry out urgent medical care in highly stressful and pressured situations. Ideally, the nurse should be able to perform a series of tasks as if they were second nature so that they will be ready for real-life scenarios.

Moving with The Times

In the earliest days of modern Western medicine, it was common for both nurses and physicians to spend a significant amount of time in a practice room, where they could go over certain aspects or procedures. It was only in the 1930s that simulation became popular in flight and military applications, and the use of simulation in a medical context was taken more seriously. With the realization that simulation is a highly effective way to prepare people for high-pressure, complex situations, it then became increasingly common practice to include a clinical simulation lab as part of the training for both doctors and nurses.

Unsurprisingly, clinical simulation labs have developed dramatically since their initial inception. Today, they employ a wide range of technology that can be used to more accurately simulate a real medical environment, including mannequins that can actually ‘give birth’ to babies, communicate via live audio, or even perform a range of facial expressions while live recording from a variety of different angles and various other assessment tools can facilitate detailed analysis of the nurse’s performance. In the future, we can likely expect the increased development of areas such as robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide even more realistic and sophisticated medical simulation models.

Practical Training is The Ultimate Learning Tool

The increased use of clinical simulation models is arguably part of a broader trend toward more practical training in medicine. While there is, of course, still a great need to hit the books and the classroom to master the fundamentals of theoretical medicine, not to mention administration and communication, there is also an acknowledgment in most modern medical training schools that nursing is, at heart, a hands-on profession. In other words, when they graduate, nurses will be required to perform a wide range of practical tasks, from taking blood and performing examinations to applying bandages, assisting the physician with medical emergencies, and administering a wide range of medication and other treatments. For this reason, it makes sense for nurses to receive as much practical training as possible.

It has also been shown that when it comes to performing complicated practical tasks, doing is much more powerful than being shown. To truly and accurately recall the steps required in a sophisticated medical procedure, the health professional must repeat these steps as many times as possible. Reading about a particular procedure is certainly an important step, and theoretical knowledge is both useful and necessary, but alone, it is simply not sufficient. To truly thrive, nurses must have a combination of both theoretical and practical abilities. So, what can future nurses do if they want to ensure that they receive the highest level of practical training?

Preparation through education

While there are various courses available, most nurses in the US are required to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). All training colleges, of course, will offer some amount of practical training, though it’s a good idea to check a detailed version of the prospectus during the application process. However, in some cases, students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in a different subject may instead look to complete an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). Indeed, several studies have shown that a more practical approach to training is particularly popular with students who are training to become nurses and have already completed a non-nursing degree.

You may be wondering, what is the difference between traditional BSN and accelerated BSN programs? Accelerated programs, like the one offered by Marymount University, enable people who would like to become qualified nurses and already have a degree in another subject to complete a degree more quickly – it typically takes around two years – and also focus more intensively on the more practical aspects of nursing. Generally, students may find it an advantage if their first degree or previous education has given them a solid theoretical background in fields related to medicine, such as anatomy, chemistry, or human development. At the same time, an ABSN is open to graduates of any kind of bachelor’s degree, and as such can be the perfect opportunity for anyone who would like to gain the highest level of preparation for a career in nursing but within a shorter timeframe than with a conventional BSN.

Students who complete an ABSN at Marymount University, for example, will not only receive an introduction to the main principles and values of nursing but will also learn how to perform a comprehensive health assessment, examine issues related to mental health, and care for clients with acute and chronic mental illness, and look at research and evidence-based practice.

They will also have the chance to complete in-person field placements and also use high-fidelity patient simulators. The fact that the course is available online also makes it a perfect choice for people who require a high degree of flexibility due to work or family commitments. Overall, graduates of the Marymount ABSN will emerge with both a sophisticated understanding of the fundamental theoretical aspects of nursing as well as a complex level of practical knowledge.

Further instruction for nurses

Naturally, even after completing their degree, most nurses will have much to learn, and there will inevitably be times in their first positions when they feel that they are out of their depth or that they are not sufficiently prepared. This is only natural, however, and almost all nurses will, in their first few years of work, develop plenty of first-hand experience in a wide range of clinical situations. They will also have the opportunity to observe their peers in action – another crucial form of practical learning.

Of course, new nurses also receive further instruction and training in the field, particularly if they begin operating in a new or more unfamiliar area of medicine. They may also have the chance to take part in mentoring schemes, where they can learn from their more experienced colleagues about all the aspects of their job, from performing medical procedures to dealing with administration and even areas such as work-life balance, leadership, and building their career. Furthermore, peer-to-peer communication is not only a useful way to obtain information relevant to nursing and discuss the profession without fear of judgment, but it can also be a great source of help, support, and reassurance.

Lifelong learning is an integral part of a nurse’s career, and clinical simulation labs in particular, and hands-on learning in general, will likely continue to play an important role in their development. As mentioned above, clinical simulation labs are often used in later training courses, while many nurses also look to increase their knowledge of their specific fields of expertise through various ways, including attending conferences, completing further formal specializations, or simply taking the time to read up on the latest developments. In each case, the key is to combine the practical training and experience gained through work with a curiosity and an openness for learning new techniques, theories, and practices that might in some way contribute to improving patient care and treatment outcomes.

Practical experience in hands-on nursing

As indicated above, before embarking on a career in nursing, it is imperative to gain the right training and master the fundamental theories and techniques of the profession. It is important not only to focus in the classroom or in late-night studying sessions but also to get the most out of any opportunities to learn about the practical side of the profession. As student nurses gradually move from the classroom toward the examination or operating room, clinical simulation labs act as an important staging post, helping to form a bridge from the theoretical to the practical, hands-on aspects of nursing.

Naturally, the best nurses are capable of managing the theoretical and practical aspects of their profession and also possess the vital soft skills, such as empathy, patience, critical thinking, and conflict resolution, to help ensure that they build up a positive and productive relationship with both their patients and fellow medical professionals. Training and education, of course, are only part of this process, but the right preparation will help set future nurses on the pathway to a long and successful career.

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