Simulation adds new level to nursing education

Instructor’s ‘get messy’ approach to mannequin, virtual reality lessons earns award


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She’d never call herself the Ms. Frizzle of nursing education, but Sufia Turner’s approach to lessons at the University of Manitoba’s College of Nursing does draw some inspiration from the cartoon teacher aboard The Magic School Bus.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/10/2022 (236 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

She’d never call herself the Ms. Frizzle of nursing education, but Sufia Turner’s approach to lessons at the University of Manitoba’s College of Nursing does draw some inspiration from the cartoon teacher aboard The Magic School Bus.

The award-winning lead instructor of the nursing school’s simulation program is particularly fond of a quote from the aforementioned Frizzle: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

Of course, in her case, the motto applies only within the confines of simulated patient scenarios using mannequins and virtual reality.

“I feel like I’m always saying it, but I really resonate with that quote. It has become such an ingrained part of how I see simulation,” she said, because that’s the place to learn without fear of repercussions.

“We want them to take chances, make mistakes and get messy in sim, where we can reset the mannequin, we can talk about mistakes and there’s no consequences to the patient or to the (nurses) themselves.”

Her teaching approach has earned international recognition.

Turner has been named the 2022 Simulation Star of the Year by Sentinel U, a Connecticut-based company that develops and provides online health-care simulation programs for educators. She was nominated by her colleagues and selected as the winner out of three finalists based on votes from nurses across Canada and the United States in September. (This is the second annual award from Sentinel U.)

Simulating patient interactions with mannequins and online tools became part of the college’s curriculum about seven years ago, as a step between theoretical nursing classes and hands-on practice with real patients. Now, students can practice with online programs and high-tech mannequins that give pulse and heartbeat readings and can even give birth to baby mannequins.

“A lot of the times, we would go into clinical (training) without having experienced any sort of clinical environment,” Turner said. “Simulation bridges that gap a little bit, so they get to experience even (something) as simple as putting on your scrubs and introducing yourself to a patient” — basic skills that are crucial for building rapport.

One of the simulations Turner and her team designed requires students to review and prioritize medical charts to decide which patients they’d treat first and why. New this fall, some of their simulation practice gives them one-on-one time with “patients” via virtual-reality headsets.

When Turner graduated from U of M with a bachelor of nursing in 2005, simulation wasn’t part of her education. She worked as an intensive care nurse in Manitoba and as a travelling nurse in California, before she returned to the U of M to work as a clinical education facilitator helping train student nurses in hospital. When an instructor position opened up, Turner soon switched her focus to simulation.

Since then, she’s become a leader in the field, and sees simulation as a quickly-advancing way to prepare future nurses.

“I’m a nurse by trade, but I also feel like I’m very creative, and it gives me an outlet for my creativity,” inventing patient charts and scenarios that nurses can expect to encounter on the job, Turner said, speaking with an energized passion for the work.

The pressure of educating new classes of nursing graduates at a time when nurses are in such extreme demand doesn’t faze her.

“We know there’s this need for nurses, we’re in a nursing crisis or nursing shortage — and with this, there’s this opportunity for us to do really meaningful learning for students in a different environment,” Turner said, adding it’s easy to keep going as a nurse educator because her students are eager to learn.

“They want to help, they want to become nurses. And to be a part of that, and see their learning and their growth in a simulation and in a debrief — to see the actual learning occur — is incredibly rewarding.”

Simulated lessons are not a replacement for real, in-hospital training with patients, but learning how to treat “fake patients” first helps nurses build confidence when the stakes aren’t as high as they will be in the health-care system, Turner said. They learn how to think critically and make quick decisions.

“There’s something really valuable about making mistakes and not feeling that gut-wrenching (feeling of) ‘Oh, my gosh, I just made a mistake! What am I going to do?’”

There’s a whole team of educators working on nursing simulation at U of M, Turner stresses, including her mentor Nicole Harder. Together, they conducted research that eventually led the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba to replace 25 per cent of nursing school’s clinical training with simulated lessons. That change happened around 2015, and is still in effect today.

The simulation tools teach future nurses how to interact with patients with mental health issues, and delve into palliative care and all life stages in between.

Virtual reality is the next step forward, Turner said, noting online simulators helped nursing students graduate on time while the COVID-19 pandemic was causing widespread graduation delays.

“I would say that in Manitoba, we have a state-of-the-art simulation program, because we’ve just now started integrating virtual reality into our simulation curriculum, which has taken a huge amount of work from some of my colleagues and myself,” Turner said.

“We’re looking at education in a very different way now. It’s not what a lot of us have gone through where it was very… didactic,” she added. “Now, it’s very much more interactive.”

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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