Simulating care

NYCOM launches nation’s first master’s program in health care simulations

Medical simulation is one of health care’s most innovative fields—but not for reasons you might think.

Medical simulation is one of health care’s most innovative fields—but not for reasons you might think. Forget about being dazzled by fancy new robots and mannequins. Technology isn’t the driving force behind new medical simulations, people are.

It’s with that notion that the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury is launching the country’s first graduate program for health care simulations in September. The master’s degree program will teach students how to develop and teach medical simulations that deal with standardized human, mannequin and robotic patients.

“If you listen to manufacturers, they would have you believe high-fidelity robotic mannequins are the key component of teaching through patient simulations,” says Anthony M. Errichetti, PhD, chief of virtual medicine at NYCOM. “The important piece is the educational component that only clinicians can provide: the ability of clinical faculty to use the mannequins as surrogate patients to teach valuable clinical lessons.”

Mannequins, robots and standardized human patients may be doing some of the teaching, but it’s instructors that design the courses and debrief students. NYCOM’s program is aimed at those future instructors. The school’s students will learn how to design and develop health care simulations, measure their efficacy, and of course, instruct and debrief their own future students. Students will also get a dose of business education, receiving instruction on how to run a simulation center, handle its high overhead costs and present their research to others in the field.

“I think simulations are the missing link in medical education right now,” says Vanessa Parisi, OMS IV, a student at NYCOM who is considering enrolling in the new graduate program. “When you run simulations you have to put all your skills together and you learn something new every time. I’ve seen people get very into the simulations and get anxious. But that’s good—you learn so much from treating it like a real scenario.”

Teaming up on errors

So far, health care simulations have fallen into two distinct camps, Dr. Errichetti says. Standardized human patient simulations are used primarily for one-on-one training, which focuses on taking histories, giving physical examinations and communicating with patients. Robot and mannequin simulations are more used to train clinicians working in medical teams, such as in operating rooms and emergency departments. The master’s program at NYCOM will attempt to bring these two methods together and give students a complete understanding of both.

“Hospitals are complicated organizations. Even highly trained individuals and experienced medical teams in the best hospital can make mistakes,” says Dr. Errichetti. “The current thinking is that the majority of medical errors are team based. Lots of errors come about when health care teams aren’t communicating effectively with each other.”

As such, the program’s main goal is to improve patient safety through team communication. Organizations such as the U.S. government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality are shedding light on how often team-based mistakes lead to medical mishaps and how “the science of team performance and training can help the medical community improve patient safety.”

“Simulations really bring together the medical community by pulling people from different fields, such as anesthesiologists and nurses,” Parisi explains. “It breaks down hierarchy and stigmas because you have to work as a coordinated unit. You develop empathy, respect and understanding for your colleagues.”

A wide open field

The new master’s program will be open to a whole host of applicants: students, physicians, nurses, paramedics, other clinicians and those who already teach or want to teach health care simulations. It will take slightly more than two years to complete.

“Medical simulations are an easy transition for osteopathic physicians because you’re already working with your hands. You become familiar with human contact and the doctor-patient relationship as soon as you enter medical school,” Parisi says.

But don’t expect too many DO-specific simulation robots anytime soon. “Today’s mannequins are not built for teaching and assessing osteopathic manipulative treatment,” Dr. Errichetti explains. “The mannequins are designed for practicing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, cardiology skills, anesthesia clinical skills, labor and delivery, and crisis management.”

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