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Queen’s rising to the COVID-19 challenge: The importance of simulation in healthcare

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen unprecedented changes to the way in which we live and work. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of healthcare.

Healthcare workers have demonstrated their resolve to serve our communities and rise to the challenges presented by COVID-19, with many extending their scope of practice and working in new ways. Under the guidance of Queen’s academics, many of our healthcare profession students have entered the workforce early to make the most effective use of their skills, talents and enthusiasm in helping deliver patient centred care at this time of critical need. 

Nurses and doctors

At Queen’s, education colleagues within the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences have been working hard to adapt and enhance their teaching of healthcare students in such unprecedented times. Simulation based education has been pivotal in equipping our students for working in the NHS. Educators in the MHLS faculty have had to reconfigure how they provide such simulation-based education, whilst maintaining the highest standards of teaching, and social distancing.

Simulation-based learning

Within the School of Nursing and Midwifery, all third-year undergraduate students received a blend of workshops, simulation, and scenario-based training to prepare for practice throughout the pandemic. Simulation-based learning addressed recognition and assessment of a deteriorating patient, timely escalation and management of care, airway management, effective team working skills, and clear communication.

Practical scenarios were run, mimicking pressurised situations, like those which could occur in practice. Learning was facilitated through immersion, reflection, feedback (in a post-scenario debrief), and practice. Workshops addressed strategies such as self-protection, self-care, how to manage stress and anxiety, and building resilience to help students work in dynamic and challenging environments. Students’ evaluations of the preparation workshops were positive:

“Feeling frightened joining the workforce six months before the completion of my course, these simulated workshops have provided immense reassurance, valuable revision and practice of skills which will be essential in caring for sick COVID-19 patients. Thank you for building my confidence and reminding me that I can do this” (Queen’s nursing student).

Additinal Queen’s staff have also utilized their skills in simulation-based education. Dr Tom Bourke (Senior Lecturer in the CME and Consultant paediatrician), together with colleagues in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, have been effectively delivering live simulation training in the care of a sick child (Simbaby) via online platforms. This allows students to develop a structured approach to assessing and managing a critically ill child, while enhancing teamwork and critical communication skills.

Nurses and doctors

Covid care in the community

Queen’s educational expertise in simulation has been also utilised in enhancing care in the NHS. By means of interprofessional in situ simulation (i.e. simulation in the actual workplace), Professor Gormley and several medical students have been helping colleagues in community-based GP COVID-19 centres to further enhance their preparedness to care for patients who are acutely unwell.

As we look to the future, Queen’s is planning to open a new state of the art simulation centre - the KN Cheung SK Chin InterSim Centre which will provide world-class facilities to further enhance our medical, nursing, pharmacy and dental students’ preparedness for clinical practice.  The Centre will allow students to enhance their clinical skills, in a safe environment, before transferring them into clinical practice.

The InterSim facilities will cover a range of environments where healthcare is provided – from a hospital ward, to a resuscitation suite, outpatient department, and importantly, a patient’s home environment.  Thanks to funds raised by Queen’s Alumni, builders are on site - and we look forward to opening the doors to students soon. While we are waiting for a return to normal- we have a chance to change what normal is in our provision of meaningful simulation-based education for contemporary clinical practice.

For more information on the KN Cheung SK Chin InterSim Centre, please see here.

For more information on what we’re doing at Queen’s to combat COVID-19, please see here.