In simulation-based education there is a relationship between the faculty of the program and the participants that is important during all aspects of simulation. The relationship has tenets of trust and respect that must be considered when designing as well as conducting simulations. I have heard this relationship referred to by a few titles such as psychological contract, fiction contract, learning contract, all of which are generally referring to the same thing.
Probably more important than the title, is what such a relationship embodies or focuses on. I view it as an agreement between two or more parties that acknowledges several aspects of simulation based programs and works to establish rules of engagement and principles of interactions between those involved.
In my practice of using simulation for clinical education I work a great deal with practicing professionals, who by in large are physicians. I generally adhere to five elements or premises over the course of interactions that I design as well as provide for the participants of my programs.
- Meaningful use of Your Time.
Acknowledging up front that participating in learning activities takes time away from their busy schedule. I assure them that the content of the program is carefully crafted to fill the needs of their learning cohort in the mostly timely way possible. I refer to refinements of the course that have occurred in response to feedback from prior participants to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.
- This is NOT real and that’s really ok!
During the orientation I am always careful to point out that not everything they are going to experience will look or feel real. I include the idea that things are “real-enough” to help us create a successful learning environment. I also let them know the things that may feel somewhat real during the simulation. Additionally, I emphasize that the “realness” is not the primary focus and point out that the learning and reinforcement of high-quality clinical practice is the ultimate outcome.
- We are not here to trick you.
I find that practicing professionals often come to simulation training endeavors with an idea that we design programs to exploit their mistakes. I assure them this is not the case. I am careful to include an overview of what they can expect during all phases of the learning. For example, when I am conducting difficult airway programs, I carefully orient them to every feature of the simulators airway mechanics before starting any scenarios. I also let them know that the cases associated with our scenarios are modeled after actual cases of clinical care. I explain that while we don’t model every detail of the case, that we work hard to design situations that provide opportunity to promote discussion and learning that would have or should have resulted from the actual case.
- Everyone makes mistakes. We are here to learn from each other.
At the most basic part of this element, I point out that WE all make mistakes and that is part of being human. I let them know that everyone is likely to make a mistake throughout the learning program. I carefully weave in the idea that it is far better to make mistakes in the simulated environment as opposed to when providing actual clinical care.
Further, I advance the idea that we can learn from each other. As everyone in clinical practice knows, there are many ways to do most things correctly. While this idea can be challenging because often people feel that “their way” is the correct way, I point out that with an open mind and professional, collaborative discussion we can share learnings with each other.
- We are here to help you be the best you can be.
Leveraging the idea that almost all practicing professional hold themselves to high levels of performance standards as well as the desire to improve can provide a powerful connection between the faculty and participants of a healthcare simulation program. I put forth this idea along with carefully tying in a review of the prior four elements. Further, I point out to them the opportunity to perfect the routine exists in our learning programs. I then pivot to highlight that some aspects of the program exist to practice and learn from situations that they may encounter infrequently that may have high stakes for the patient.
So, in summary, I believe the relationship between faculty members and participants of simulation-based education programs is multi-factorial and demands attention. Depending on the learners and the topics of the program, the elements that serve as the underpinning of the relationship may range from few to many, and moderate to significant in complexity.
In my simulation work providing clinical education that involves practicing physicians as participants, I pay close attention to the five elements described above throughout the design as well as the conducting of the learning encounters.
I invite you to reflect upon your approach to the development and maintenance of the relationship between your faculty and participants of your simulation efforts.