Patient safety wins as Cape university offers simulated training to young medics

04 May 2021 - 08:00
Medical students at Stellenbosch will now gain experience and confidence in a new medical simulation unit before examining real patients.
Medical students at Stellenbosch will now gain experience and confidence in a new medical simulation unit before examining real patients.
Image: Supplied

Performing medical examinations on patients for the first time is probably one of the most nerve-racking experiences for medical students, due to their inexperience and fear of making mistakes.

But students at Stellenbosch University will now gain this valuable experience in a safer and less pressured environment — thanks to a new state of the art simulation clinical skills unit.

The unit, launched on Monday, will provide students with realistic simulations of medical scenarios in a simulated hospital ward and consultation rooms, equipped with medical models and manikins, to help them gain clinical skills before they are exposed to real patients.

Through the use of hi-tech cameras with video streaming capabilities, the medical scenarios can be followed and assessed virtually from anywhere. The unit has been punted as an inter-professional training facility that will train students from other undergraduate programmes that fall within the health and sciences faculty, including nursing, emergency medical care and environmental health. 

During the official launch, dean of medicine and health sciences Prof Jimmy Volmink said the new facility would address patient safety issues and help students gain confidence before dealing with real patients.

“The faculty has long realised that having students learn clinical procedures directly on patients is not ideal. This may in some instances compromise patient safety or undermine patient dignity. This type of learning is also not ideal for students who would prefer to have opportunities to prove their competence and confidence in doing procedures in a risk-free environment before being confronted by real patients,” he said.

He said the driver of the trend towards simulated learning is a practical one, given challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic and the increasing number of students at medical schools.

“The number of enrolled students in health sciences has been increasing. This means less space and time for students to access patients and to learn procedures at the bedside under the supervision of skilled clinicians.

“Responding to this need, we decided in 2000 to establish a clinical skills lab where students could acquire important clinical skills, as it were, offline. This clinical skills lab was so popular that the demand for its use quickly outstripped what we could supply, creating an urgent need for additional space. All the while, we were also aware that simulation technology in healthcare was advancing rapidly. It therefore became necessary for us to move with the times and to think of upgrading the skills lab.

“From humble beginnings where students were learning relatively basic procedures in this facility, we have now moved to this state of the art unit that allows, among other things, for realistic simulations of medical scenarios, complete with symptoms and variable of vital signs which can even respond to treatment,” he said.

Even though the facility was planned before Covid-19, it has become particularly useful during the pandemic because of diminished training support that medical students are experiencing at clinics and hospitals.

Prof Susan van Schalkwyk, director of the Centre for Health Professions Education, said over the past 25 years there had been significant growth in the use of clinical simulation.

“We want to be able to send these novice students to work with patients and we also need our graduating students to be competent and confident.  Simulation has come in as a response to counter the theory- heavy curriculum that has come to characterise many programmes in the field,” she said.

A simulation ward at Stellenbosch University will allow medical students to safety perfect their clinical skills before examining human beings.
A simulation ward at Stellenbosch University will allow medical students to safety perfect their clinical skills before examining human beings.
Image: supplied

“Apart from offering the opportunity to provide efficient and timely acquisition of skills, it also allows for repetitive practice in an environment that is safe and without interruption. Simulation allows for learning to be carefully titrated, enabling learning from links to more complex skills, while also ensuring that exposure across specific skills can be guaranteed again, not something that can be guaranteed in the hospital environment. It encourages an engaged learning experience,” she added.

For final-year medical student Azhar Nadkar, one of the best things about the new unit was having the opportunity to “practise life-saving emergency procedures in an environment where we won’t compromise ourselves or the patients”, while for a third-year nursing student Philwe Msweli the simulation experience has given a “tremendous confidence in real-life clinical situations”.

Rector and vice-chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers said the simulation unit is not only imperative for patient safety, but also for physicians and young doctors who are often overworked and sleep-deprived.

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