U. of Central Florida Reveals Human Side of Nursing Simulation Tech

State-of-the-art simulation technology is changing nursing education. At UCF, the tech also reveals the interpersonal dimensions of healthcare.
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Anne Dennon covers higher education trends, policy, and student issues for BestColleges. She has an MA in English literature and a background in research strategy and service journalism....
Updated on January 3, 2023
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  • Blinking, breathing manikins and 3D wound management are the new normal in nursing education.
  • The cutting-edge nursing program at the University of Central Florida boasts advanced tech, but its goals are human.
  • Simulation technology allows students to train for caretaking's most vulnerable moments.
Advertising Disclosure: This content was created by BestColleges and sponsored by UCF Online.

When pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger emergency landed a plane on New York's Hudson River one winter day in 2009, the event — which saved the life of every person on board — was hailed as a miracle. Capt. Sully's miraculous maneuver is one he had trained for time and again, via simulation.

Flight simulators teach pilots how to respond to technical challenges as well as emotional ones — stress, intensity, and the unknown. In the field of healthcare, simulation technology imparts similar lessons.

Desiree Díaz, Ph.D., an associate professor and undergraduate simulation coordinator at the University of Central Florida (UCF), summarizes simulated learning as, "Safe practice prior to human practice."

Díaz offers up Sully's landing as a profound response to the question, "Can you learn from what you did in simulation?"

UCF Advances the Science of Nursing

Just as pilots must put in hundreds of simulated hours "before they can fly us up there," Díaz says, healthcare simulation enables new nurses to embark on their work as the "best, safest caregivers" they can be.

At the massive University of Central Florida, nursing ranks among the top programs, with on-campus and online nursing programs from the bachelor's to the doctoral level, as well as online certification in healthcare simulation.

Accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, UCF's simulation program is also one of only nine worldwide to have earned endorsement from the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation (INACSL), and the only one in the state of Florida.

Dr. Desiree Díaz engages with students during a simulated clinical training. Image Credit: University of Central Florida

According to Díaz, what sets UCF's College of Nursing apart is its use and development of cutting-edge simulation technology. "We are in the top 10 of schools advancing the science," he said.

Near UCF's main Orlando campus, the STIM (Simulation, Technology, Innovation and Modeling) Center replicates hospital and clinical settings to help students build practical and interpersonal skills, thanks to sim tech such as manikins with heart tones and bowel sounds, holograms, and 3D wound management.

Some of this tech has come out of UCF research: The healthcare simulation faculty at UCF have more than 10 patents issued between them, Díaz reports, crafted in concert with computer scientists.

Nursing Simulation Tech Can Help Prioritize Patient Needs

Sim tech in healthcare is in a growth spurt, but the technology has been integral to the field for decades, particularly in the education of specialists like anesthesiologists, pharmacists, and psychiatrists. Many programs and hospitals use simulation as a check-off for the advancement of students and new practitioners.

Nursing, says Díaz, has been slower on the uptake. Due to national standards, UCF's graduate students in nursing still must complete their clinical hours in person, while undergraduate students can complete 50% of clinicals through simulation.

Simulations ensure students experience a variety of medical situations that may not be possible during in-person clinicals. For example, while a student may not have the chance to experience a live birth during clinical hours, this learning opportunity is always possible through simulation.

The gradual acceptance of sim tech in nursing is driven in part by pragmatism — allowing students to make beginners' mistakes with a life-size doll improves patient safety. But the technology also has vast potential to augment the curriculum with lessons in decision-making and communication.

“Simulation technology has a surprising focus on the human side of healthcare. It allows students to practice moments of great vulnerability in healthcare before they happen.”

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Through simulation, students can experiment with their responses to tough situations, like those involving death or abuse. They can also experience more diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) scenarios than they would in real life, where implicit bias might derail their interactions with transgender or minority patients, for example.

Simulation technology has a surprising focus on the human side of healthcare. It allows students to practice moments of great vulnerability in healthcare before they happen. As Díaz puts it, "Do you really want to be embarking on that situation for the first time in real life?"

It can even help improve students' conscientious use of other technology — bringing human dimensions back to tech-heavy healthcare interactions such as telehealth appointments or conversations using translation phones.

Researchers suggest that simulation allows more time for the subtle work of nursing — reading patients' cues and analyzing information — while in clinical courses, students tend to spend more time performing basic care, like bathing and taking vitals.

Studies also suggest that higher-level care activities that require skills and critical thinking occur more frequently in simulation than in clinical settings and allow students to use what they know independently — the way they'll have to when they're in the field.

The flexibility of sim tech means that it can simultaneously provide more experience dealing with the rare, thereby offering a global perspective, and more experience dealing with local needs. In Florida, where most of UCF's nursing grads remain to practice, that means extra training in geriatric care.

In both cases, sim tech provides a framework for students to operate from when they transition to professionals. As Díaz relates, "What I was able to do as a student nurse facilitated the level at which I was entering professionally."

An education that centers on simulation technology also ensures a smoother transition to employment as a healthcare professional. Hospitals use simulation for training and on-boarding; familiarity with it helps to bridge classroom theories to real-world practice.