In the Fall 2010, the Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CPD) program took an innovative approach to teaching clinical dietetic skills to students through simulation. Dietetics students completed assessments and medical nutrition therapy on “SimMan.” This is a robotic patient in a hospital room that communicates back to them. Preceptors and instructors took turns programming the robot and challenging the students on specific cases.
Clinical simulations are the newest technology to enter the clinical education environment. Clinical simulation embodies advanced technology, helps meet the demand for clinical placement sites, and embraces a new way of thinking about education. In the postsecondary health care field, simulation is increasingly recognized as a teaching resource to reduce pressure on limited clinical sites and preceptors. Benefits to using clinical simulation include increasing confidence of trainees and adding rigor to the credentialing and precepting process. Simulations are new to the area of clinical dietetics.
In a partnership with North Idaho College Health Sciences, we provided simulated clinical experiences to our dietetics students that replaced experiences that they would have received in local hospitals, who continue to limit their numbers of students. Simulation will help us continue to increase our enrollment numbers and expand our placements for Clinical II students around the state.
One of the advantages of this new method and use of technology is the provision of realistic clinical experiences without risk to patients and learners; essentially, learners have “permission to fail” and learn from such failure in a way that would be unthinkable in a clinical setting. Students can be exposed to clinical experiences they would rarely see, and events can be scripted and practiced. Scenarios can be designed with increasing complexity and introduced in a controlled way. Skills can be practiced repeatedly, tailored to individual needs.
We believe that simulation-based learning can help students bridge the gap between classroom and clinical settings and support their ability to apply what they have learned. We are carefully evaluating the efficacy of this new technique and will be publishing the results of our research soon. There is definitely a need for more research to validate simulation as a teaching-learning strategy or assessment/evaluation method in the field of dietetics. The UI CPD is at the forefront of this new approach.