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What is Simulation Medicine?

Career News August 5, 2013

In the nursing profession, the more experience you have in performing various procedures; you can improve the way you do your job and take care of your patients. One method to help nurses prepare is simulation medicine, which is ideal for practicing a technique in realistic situations. With simulation medicine, registered nurse (RN) students will be able to test their abilities and learn from their mistakes without causing any harm to an actual person. Much like in a video game, a simulated patient can be injured or “die,” and then immediately available again for further testing and nurse education.


Scientists have been performing simulations on computers to help them understand a variety of complicated situations, ranging from the effects of a severe storm to how molecules interact in drug discovery research. By modeling key aspects of a medical situation, such as the age, weight and overall health of a patient, the computer can create scenarios of injury, disease and post-operative status, and then test a nurse’s ability to respond to changing conditions.

Simulation medicine takes advantage of a computer’s ability to model reality and change different conditions according to input from the user. By programming a medical scenario into a computer, future nurses can learn how to do a procedure, test clinical knowledge and evaluate the quality of his or her decisions. At the most basic level of computer simulation, the student looks at a computer monitor and works with text, sound and 2D and 3D images.

For example, the simulated patient will breathe at a certain rate that can change depending on what his condition is and how the nurse is responding to him. Heart rate changes are updated in the monitor just as they would in real life. The patient in the simulation will respond to drugs administered by the nurse, who can see what happens as the result of giving the wrong drug or the wrong amount of the right drug.

Virtual Reality

For a more immersive experience when working with a computer to conduct simulation medicine, students enter a virtual reality world. Typically, the student puts on video goggles and sensors that detect where he or she is looking in the virtual world, and the simulation adjusts accordingly.

Since the nurse has more of a sense of actually being in the environment with the patient and the medical equipment, the simulation provides a greater opportunity to learn and experiment with different approaches.

For example, administrators can program the simulation to present an unexpected patient reaction to a treatment to see how well the nurse responds in a crisis situation. Just getting extra practice working in simulated emergencies can go a long way toward helping a nurse become more proficient.


Another aspect of simulation medicine involves the use of anatomically correct mannequins that have sensors embedded in them. When the nurse performs a procedure on the mannequin, it can tell whether the nurse has properly administered an injection, for example, or has properly moved an injured limb.

Rather than working with actual injured patients or with actors who would soon grow tired from repeating the exercise, using a mannequin enables nursing students to gain valuable experience practicing procedures as many times as they want.

While ultimately, it is actual work with living humans that help a student become a better nurse, simulation medicine is a valuable tool for learning new techniques, practicing what to do when faced with numerous medical complications and getting exposure to a wide variety of events before having to face them in real life.

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