June 5, 2019

Patient Simulation and the Benefits to Student Pharmacists

Darby Pullen, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baptist Memorial Hospital, North Mississippi

Pharmacy education is continually changing and faculty should be familiar with a variety of models to teach students. During my time in Pharmacy School, patient simulation mannequins were used to demonstrate and practice hands-on techniques that I might later use in practice, such as how to give glucagon when a patient with diabetes is hypoglycemic and not responsive.

Students today are exposed to more stimuli and expect more than a typical PowerPoint presentation. Mannequins can mimic several disease states such as cardiac arrest and allergic reactions. Students can gather a variety of clinical information from a mannequin including a pulse, heartbeat, lung sounds, and other hemodynamic parameters.1 Virtual patients are another form of simulation that can enhance student learning. Virtual patients are created in digital, computer-based environments.

Simulation is a way to bridge the foundational knowledge that is taught in the classroom to hands-on experience. Moreover, some students prefer hands-on activities in order to fully understand different disease states. Mannequins can benefit the students who are visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learners.1 This would, in turn, enhance the pharmacy student’s knowledge, confidence, and clinical skills.1

Simulation can enhance students’ learning process.1 Using patient simulation requires more active student participation in a low-risk environment.1 Students are able to have more hands-on activities that simulates real-life scenarios but without risking actual patient harm. Facilitators are usually available to correct student behavior when they are interacting with the mannequins and computer simulators can provide ongoing feedback.1

According to the ACPE accreditation standards for pharmacy schools, “graduates must possess basic knowledge, skills, and abilities to practice pharmacy independently, at the time of graduation."2 ACPE allows up to 20% of the students’ required hours of practice experience to be fulfilled using simulation.2 By including more patient simulation in the classroom, it would be a win-win situation. Students would have greater access to semi-authentic learning exercises and would fulfill requirements for ACPE.

Faculty at the Universiti Teknologi MARA in Selangor, Malaysia evaluated the difference in students’ performance when they were taught using a human patient simulator compared to a problem-based learning activity.3 The investigators were teaching students about diabetic ketoacidosis and thyroid storm. This was a crossover study. Students were randomized to receive instruction using either a human patient simulator or a problem-based learning activity for one of the disease states and then crossed-over to receive instruction using the alternative instructional method for the second disease state. After each case, students were assessed using a posttest immediately after the lesson followed by a knowledge retention test 10 weeks later. The knowledge retention test included recall and application questions.

On follow-up surveys, students indicated they were more satisfied learning using the patient simulation rather than problem-based learning.3 The posttest and knowledge retention scores were significantly higher (p < 0.05) in the mannequin group (mean scores: posttest 78.5; knowledge retention 58.5) for the thyroid storm case when compared to problem-based learning group (mean scores: posttest 75.1; knowledge retention 53.5).1 This study suggests that human patient simulation may be more effective for long-term knowledge retention than problem-based learning.

In another study, investigators at Griffith University in Queensland Australia assessed the role of virtual (simulated) patients in pharmacy education. Specifically, they examined how students feel about the experience as well as how well they performance on knowledge tests and assessments of clinical skills.4 They performed a meta-analysis and found nine studies that compared virtual patients to traditional teaching methods. Their findings showed that the use of virtual patient to teach about therapeutic topics was not superior to traditional teaching in terms of student performance, but does improve the students’ reaction to the learning experience.4

Simulator mannequins are expensive. They can run anywhere from 16 to 90 thousand dollars.3 Plus there are additional costs for maintaining the mannequins and hiring qualified operators. This is a high cost for pharmacy schools to add to their budgets. However, schools can consider collaborating with other health professional schools. Nursing and medical programs often use patient mannequins. By using them for interprofessional activities, this not only improves pharmacy student knowledge but also teaches them about team member roles. By having more interprofessional interactions, medical and nursing student benefit as well.

Using mannequins and virtual patients, students must use critical thinking skills in addition to their baseline pharmacotherapy knowledge.4 Students can be placed into a high-stress environment but the stakes are low. You don’t want students having their first interaction with a real patient while still trying to learn about a new disease state. Students can be prepared for the experience by completing an orientation exercise and continue to repeatedly practice with the mannequins. Using virtual patients and mannequins, pharmacy students would have greater confidence when advancing into their advanced practice experiences.

There is some evidence that simulator mannequins improve students’ learning, particularly long-term knowledge retention.4,5 Students respond favorably to learning activities involving mannequins and virtual patients because they are low risk. Traditional learning methods are still needed but simulator mannequins and virtual patients can help students build their confidence. Simulator mannequins should be considered when there is a hands-on technique that students need to master, such as working as an interprofessional team during a code or administering medications. Virtual patients can further pharmacy student’s knowledge and clinical decision-making skills.

  1. Vyas D, Wombwell E, Russell E, et. al. High-Fidelity Patient Simulation Series to Supplement Introductory Pharmacy Practice ExperiencesAmerican Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2010; 74 (9) 169. DOI:10.5688/aj7409169
  2. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education: Policies and Procedures for ACPE Accreditation of Professional Degree Programs – January 2010Accessed 30 April 2019.
  3. Chin KL, Yap YL, Lee WL, et. al. Comparing Effectiveness of High-Fidelity Human Patient Simulation vs Case-Based Learning in Pharmacy Education. Am J Pharm Educ 2014; 78 (8) Article 153. DOI:10.5688/ajpe788153 
  4. Baumann-Birkbeck L, Florentina F, Karatas O, et. al. Appraising the Role of the Virtual Patient for Therapeutics Health Education. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. 2017; 9 (5): 934-944. DOI:10.1016/j.cptl.2017.05.012
  5. Seybert, AL. Patient Simulation in Pharmacy Education. Am J Pharm Educ 2011; 75 (9) Article 187. DOI:10.5688/ajpe759187