• Careers
  • by Agnes Hicks
  • Sep 13, 2018

My Nursing Specialty: Healthcare Simulation Educator

Healthcare simulation is a vital educational tool that provides hands-on experiences in a controlled environment that feels real but poses no risk to live patients. A healthcare simulation lab—such as Chamberlain University’s high-tech SIMCARE CENTERTM—can so closely replicate the hospital and clinical settings with lifelike patient simulators that learners may feel the same level of physical and emotional reactions as a real-life medical situation.

This simulated environment can help students learn how to transfer their knowledge into practice and react in real-time to common patient scenarios including childbirth, seizures and cardiac arrest. It can also be used to broaden their exposure to emergency situations that they may not normally face such as an Ebola outbreak.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Melinda Armstrong, MSN, RN, CHSE, who joined Chamberlain University as a SIMCARE CENTER manager at the Charlotte, North Carolina, campus in 2017 after more than 10 years in healthcare simulation education—a role that she didn’t originally envision for herself but has since fully embraced as an exciting career option and a beneficial part of nursing education.

What led you to a career in nursing education?

Earning my Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and becoming the lead faculty for a nursing fundamentals course in 2005 was the highlight of my career, or so I thought. I knew I wanted to teach nursing while I was still a nursing student. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and a successful 10-year career in the banking industry, I chose to return to school earning my diploma in nursing, my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and finally my MSN. I left a neonatal intensive care nursery to join the faculty at the school where I earned my nursing diploma, teaching with some of my greatest nursing heroes and mentors.

How did you become engaged in healthcare simulation?

In 2006 I was approached by the dean of nursing, who asked me if I’d like to explore creating a nursing simulation lab at our school. At the time I was happy teaching a nursing fundamentals course, but I eventually accepted the opportunity to join this unique, progressive educational field for the advancement of our students. I didn’t know then it would be one of the best things that happened to me.

What was involved in developing your first healthcare simulation lab?

Knowing nothing about this technologically advanced learning tool, I began reading, studying and visiting simulation labs and product vendors. After assisting the dean with grant writing and partnering with the neighboring hospital, a patient simulation lab was designed, built and opened. I was named the simulation lab coordinator, while continuing to act as lead faculty for my nursing fundamentals course.

At what point did you realize that this was going to be your career moving forward?

Eventually I began to think of this lab as “my” lab and the simulators as “my” patients. We grew, adding simulation sessions for both the school and the hospital. I added staff and equipment and space. I eventually bid farewell to the nursing fundamentals course and was promoted to director of nursing labs.

What do you enjoy about being a healthcare simulation expert?

Technology is constantly evolving in this field so I’m always learning, which is invigorating. I enjoy attending conferences and giving presentations, as well as mentoring and collaborating with others. In 2012 I earned my Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator designation and continue to hold it as one of my greatest accomplishments. I’ve worked in simulation labs in academic institutions and hospital systems in two different states and networked with countless individuals from around the world. I joke that “all my patients are plastic, and I like it that way,” but actually that is really close to the truth!  

What brought you to Chamberlain University’s SIMCARE CENTER?

While working for a healthcare system’s simulation lab in my area, I happened to be on a group email that received information about a job opportunity as the SIMCARE CENTER manager of the Charlotte campus. Chamberlain University was new to the Charlotte market, and I really knew nothing about it. I explored Chamberlain’s website and really liked what I read, especially the part about the university’s commitment to infuse care into education – Chamberlain Care®. I applied for the position and knew I’d found the perfect place for me as soon as I completed the on-campus interview.

What is the day-to-day job like as a healthcare simulation educator?

No two days in the life of a simulation educator are the same—one of the reasons I love what I do! Depending on where you work, learners can vary from students, nurses and doctors to physical therapists, respiratory therapists, chaplains, dieticians and anyone else on the healthcare team. The actual simulation learning event lasts only minutes, but the preparation leading up to it can take weeks. Just one learning event can involve conducting a needs assessment, developing learning objectives, writing the actual simulation scenario, choosing the appropriate simulator, gathering medical supplies and equipment, applying wounds or other special effects, and rehearsing the simulation so that the learner experiences the highest degree of realism. On the day of the experience, learners must be prepared (pre-briefing) prior to the actual experience as well as guided in self-reflection (debriefing) after the experience.

Any advice you would give to someone who is considering a career in healthcare simulation?

Don’t be afraid to pursue other avenues that you’ve never thought of before. As I reflect upon my now more than 10 years of healthcare simulation education experience, I smile when I remember how reluctant I was to leave my nursing fundamentals course. How very fortunate I am that my dean could see the “closet simulationist” living inside me and propelled me headlong into this career. I have been richly blessed and am thankful for the best career I could have ever imagined for myself.

Interested in finding out how Chamberlain University is using this complex, innovative educational tool to prepare extraordinary healthcare professionals? Check out our SIMCARE CENTER at each of our 21 campuses.

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