One of the things that is a challenge for healthcare education is the reliance on random opportunity for clinical events to present themselves for a given group of learners to encounter as part of a pathway of a structured learning curriculum. This uncertainty of exposure and eventual development of competency is part of what keep our educational systems time-based which is fraught with inefficiencies by its very nature.
Simulation curriculum design at present often embeds simulation in a rather immature development model in which there is an “everybody does all of the simulations” approach. If there is a collection of some core topics that are part and parcel to a given program, combined with a belief, or perhaps proof, that simulation is a preferred modality for the topic, then it makes sense for those exposures. Let’s move beyond the topics or situations that are best experienced by everyone.
If you use a model of physician residency training for example, curriculum planners “hope” that over the course of a year a given first year resident will adequately manage an appropriate variety of cases. The types of cases, often categorized by primary diagnosis, is embedded in some curriculum accreditation document under the label “Year 1.” For the purposes of this discussion lets change the terminology from Year 1 to Level 1 as we look toward the future.
What if we had a way to know that a resident managed the cases, and managed them well for level one? Perhaps one resident could accomplish the level one goals in six months, and do it well. Let’s call that resident, Dr. Fast. This could then lead to a more appropriate advancement of the resident though the training program as opposed to them advancing by the date on the calendar.
Now let’s think about it from another angle. Another resident who didn’t quite see all of the cases, or the variety of cases needed, but they are managing things well when they do it. Let’s call them Dr. Slow. A third resident of the program is managing an adequate number and variety, but is having quality issues. Let’s refer to them as Dr. Mess. An honest assessment of the current system is that all three residents will likely be advanced to hire levels of responsibilities based on the calendar without substantial attempt at remediation of understanding of the underlying deficiencies.
What are the program or educational goals for Drs. Fast, Slow and Mess? What are the differences? What are the similarities? What information does the program need to begin thinking in this competency based model? Is that information available now? Will it likely be in the future? Does it make sense that we will spend time and resources to put all three residents through the same simulation curriculum?
While there may be many operational, culture, historical models and work conditions that provide barriers to such a model, thinking about a switch to a competency based model forces one to think deeper about the details of the overall mission. The true forms of educational methods, assessment tools, exposure to cases and environments, should be explored for both efficiency and effective effectiveness. Ultimately the outcomes we are trying to achieve for a given learner progressing through a program would be unveiled. Confidence in the underlying data will be a fundamental necessary component of a competency based system. In this simple model, the two functional data points are quantity and quality of given opportunities to learn and demonstrate competence.
This sets up intriguing possibilities for the embedding of simulation into the core curriculum to function in a more dynamic way and contribute mightily to the program outcomes.
Now think of the needs of Dr. Slow and Dr. Mess. If we had insight combined with reliable data, we could customize the simulation pathway for the learner to maximally benefit their progression through the program. We may need to provide supplement simulations to Dr. Slow to allow practice with a wider spectrum of cases, or a specific diagnosis, category of patient, or situation for them to obtain exposure. Ideally this additional exposure that is providing deliberate practice opportunities could also include learning objectives to help them increase their efficiencies.
In the case of Dr. Mess, the customization of the simulation portion of the curriculum provide deliberate practice opportunities with targeted feedback directly relevant to their area(s) of deficiency, ie a remediation model. This exposure for Dr. Mess could be constructed to provide a certain category of patient, or perhaps situation, that they are reported to handle poorly. The benefit in the case of Dr. Mess is the simulated environment can often be used to tease out the details of the underlying deficiency in a way that learning in the actual patient care environment is unable to expose.
Lastly, in our model recall that Dr. Fast may not require any “supplemental” simulation thus freeing up sparse simulation and human resources necessary to conduct it. This is part of the gains in efficiencies that can be realized through a competency -based approach to incorporating simulation into a given curriculum.
Considering a switch to a competency based curriculum in healthcare education can be overwhelming simply based on the number of operational and administrative challenges. However, using a concept of a competency based implementation as a theoretical model can help envision a more thoughtful approach to curricular integration of simulation. If we move forward in a deliberate attempt to utilize simulation in a more dynamic way, it will lead to increases in efficiencies and effectiveness along with providing better stewardship of scarce resources.