When UCCS students are studying to become nurses, nothing is more effective than hands-on learning. But it can be difficult — and dangerous — for students to practice new skills in a high-intensity setting with ramifications for real patients. That’s where the Simulation Learning Center at UCCS comes in.
Founded in 2012, the Simulation Learning Center uses innovative technologies to simulate patient care for nursing students so that they can practice their skills without putting patients at risk.
It is one of just three accredited simulation learning centers in Colorado, and the learning opportunities it provides are vast. Nursing students can practice patient care on high-fidelity manikins. Made to look like humans, these specialized robots are controlled by simulation technicians. Manikins can bleed, cry, throw up, spit mucus, suffer heart attacks, hemorrhage, experience a collapsed lung and even give birth. Nursing students can guide the patient’s care through each of these high-pressure scenarios and review their performance afterward, with no consequences to a real patient.
Other opportunities through the SLC bring actors into the classroom to create an even more immersive experience. Through the Center’s Mask EdTM program, nursing faculty suit up in prosthetic masks to simulate geriatric patients who require special care. The interactive simulations test students’ technical competencies, as well as their ability to communicate empathetically with older adults.
According to Lynn Phillips, Director of the Simulation Learning Center and Assistant Professor in the Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the Center doesn’t just help students gain confidence in their own abilities. It is helping UCCS to address a critical shortage in healthcare workers.
“The necessary knowledge and skills for this field are becoming more complex, while the number of graduates must rapidly increase to fill shortages in the healthcare workforce,” Phillips said. “We use simulation to provide hands-on practice with skills and decision-making in a safe educational environment for students from any healthcare discipline. This provides many opportunities for students to practice working together and making life-saving decisions that they would not get otherwise. As a result, we can increase the number of workforce-ready graduates.”
To learn more, we sat down with Phillips to discuss the mission and vision of the Simulation Learning Center, and its goals for the future. Read Phillips’s interview below.
1. Describe how and why the Simulation Learning Center at UCCS was started.
The Simulation Learning Center is housed in the Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences and serves all healthcare related disciplines. It was started in 2012 due to changes in healthcare professional education. The necessary knowledge and skills are becoming more complex, while the number of graduates must rapidly increase to fill shortages in the healthcare workforce. We use simulation to provide hands-on practice with skills and decision-making in a safe educational environment for students from any healthcare discipline. This provides many opportunities for students to practice working together and making life-saving decisions that they would not get otherwise.
As a result, we can increase the number of workforce-ready graduates. In 2019, the SLC was accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, making it one of just three accredited simulation centers in Colorado.
2. How does the Center’s work align with your own background?
I share a passion for innovation and learner-centered education. My research area of interest is how students learn situation awareness and discern what data is most salient in order to make sound clinical decisions. This center is where my practice as a nurse and my passion for education can merge to create transformative educational experiences.
3. Share a project, piece of research or initiative the Center has advanced that you’re proud of.
There are so many that it is hard to choose just one. We have been pioneers in distance education. Since 2016, we have had distance students from as far away as Nigeria and Qatar using telepresence robots to care for patients onsite. We have used a teaching modality called Mask EdTM where trained educators use Hollywood-style masks to transform into actors who bring the real-world experiences of older adults right into the classroom. Sometimes the actors have symptoms that prompt the students to treat the emergency right there in the classroom. Research studies regarding the use of this technique are ongoing. There are many innovative new teaching technologies and strategies that are initiated and supported by the SLC.
4. What do you see as the next big topic or issue the Center will tackle in the next year?
Beginning this summer and for the next year, we are partnering with Computer Science and the Honors program and doing research to explore the use of virtual reality to influence empathy for people with mental health disorders. We are hoping that experiencing symptoms such as auditory hallucinations while in a virtual world will help healthcare providers have more understanding and compassion for people they may encounter who live with these symptoms.
5. What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned as Center Director?
I am continually surprised at the amazing research that is being done on this campus. The creativity and resourcefulness of students and faculty is just phenomenal.
6. Is there a project or program that never got off the ground that you wish you could reignite?
I can’t say this project didn’t get off the ground, but I would say that the most challenging project has been to encourage students from different disciplines to learn together. We have so much to learn from each other. When we can get students (and faculty) talking to each other, we all benefit. Finding ways for students to interact that are realistic and fit into different academic schedules is one goal that we are diligently working toward.
7. What part of the Center’s work most excites or inspires you?
All of it! When students get the opportunity to “be in charge” and learn from each experience how to be better clinicians — that is what inspires me. We have a wonderful team of people here at the SLC. They also inspire me to keep pushing the envelope and making the learning experience even better.