Patient Simulators: Worth the Money or Waste of Time?

crash-test-nurseEveryone wants the newest, high-tech gadgets.  From iPhones in our pockets to laptops on our units, we expect technology to further the cause of nursing and not hold it back.

One place where technology is becoming more of a factor is in the nursing classroom.  Thousands of schools across the country are investing thousands of dollars in state of the art simulation facilities.

It’s great that someone is taking some money and throwing it at nursing education, but are simulators really what new and experienced nurses need to become better at their jobs?  Even hospitals now use simulators for codes, ICU experiences, and other interactions to better prepare nurses.

Simulation may seem like a no-brainer situation for nurses: they get experience and no one gets hurt.  However, some may not consider the disadvantages of simulators and how that can affect the nursing community.

Advantages of Patient Simulators

Of course, the advantages of patient simulators are much heralded in the nursing community.  This is not without cause because some of these high tech machines can do amazing things.

Nurses and students can learn how to approach a patient, perform assessments, and conduct procedures without harming an actual patient.  In fact, simulators can pretend to go south and students can work to save them without fear of physical failure.

Another important point is that the rush for clinical sites in most communities is getting tight.  News of the nursing shortage has prompted hundreds of men and women to head back to nursing school, and the ability to actually get hands on patients is highly competitive.

This isn’t to say that simulators should take the place of clinicals.  No one can prepare a nurse for what it is actually like to take care of a patient, make life saving decisions, and manage patient care – and that includes high tech simulators.

Disadvantages of Patient Simulators

Cost is a very realistic disadvantage of nursing simulators.  They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and hospitals and universities seem to be funneling money into them as if they are the savior of nursing programs.

But, really, couldn’t that money be better used?  What if the money was taken and given to teachers who will be the true mentors of the students or used to buy updated equipment to work with?

Everyone is so enamored of patient simulators, but there cost is prohibitive to many small schools.  Is a school better merely because it has a million dollar simulation lab?  Does this mean it produces better nurses?

Instead of funneling this money toward the next big thing, why not put it back into teachers and students?  Find ways to use that money to help nurses get their hands on patients instead of creating analogs that may or may not be helpful.

Where Should the Money Go?

As a nurse, I’ve encountered many simulation experiences both as a student and working in a hospital.  I daresay that nothing I learned in those simulations could replace working with the patient in the presence of other nurses who knew what they were doing.

If a hospital wants simulators, why not take that money and give nurses a raise?  Why make mandatory code simulations on these high tech machines just another hoop to jump through?

Some research has shown that simulators can increase a student’s knowledge of patient care, but most of these studies are small, not particularly rigorous, and honestly not enough to justify million dollar investments.

Simulators will be a part of nursing for a long time to come, and they have their place.  As a nurse who’s been on the front lines, though, I would rather that money go into better clinical experiences, better pay for nurses, lower ratios, and other issues that would go much further toward providing better patient care.

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