A doctor and patient converse in the corridor of a hospital.

Better understanding the role of 'simulated participants' in healthcare education

  • Education

Simulated participants, often known as SPs, are individuals who receive specialised training to take on the role of a patient in simulation-based training scenarios. Their primary duty is to provide constructive and actionable feedback to learners based on their performance in simulated educational settings.

SPs play an integral role in health professions education, particularly in communication skills training, as they provide feedback from an essential perspective – that of the patient. SPs can also take on the roles of family members or healthcare staff, adding complexity to scenarios and enhancing the educational experience. 

At RCSI, simulation plays a huge role in how we train our future healthcare professionals and the RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation Education and Research is dedicated to providing world-class facilities and training. 

The SP program at RCSI SIM began in 2005, with volunteers recruited family members of staff and members of the local community. Over the years, the programme has grown exponentially, with more than 6,000 hours of simulation teaching now conducted during the academic year, spanning diverse healthcare disciplines including medicine, pharmacy, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, physiotherapy and postgraduate teaching.

Advancing the field

As well as providing hands-on, innovative training, the RCSI SIM team also carries out important research to progress the field of simulated training and better understand the role and experience of simulated participants. 

A key example of this is a Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) scoping review conducted by the RCSI SIM team in collaboration with international partners. This novel review identifies how simulated participants are prepared for and engage in feedback practices for communication skills training in health professions education. 

The BEME review team worked with a simulated participant from the RCSI SP programme, as well as international experts in SP methodology from Europe, the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. These stakeholders were invited to co-create the review through feedback comments and guidance at each stage of the BEME scoping process, which helped to shape the final review. This collaborative approach ensured a well-rounded and thorough examination of SP feedback practices in healthcare education.

Findings from the review suggest there are a variety of approaches to SP training for their role and feedback practices. Issues included a lack of consistency in the detail regarding the scenario formats for communication skills training interventions, SP characteristics, and approaches to training, as well as a considerable gap in implementation of the Association of SP Educator (ASPE) standards of best practice, which are fundamental to the effectiveness of SP learner feedback interactions.

The importance of SP research

Simulation training provides learners an effective and safe environment in which to acquire and hone their skills, and effective communication skills training has been shown to positively impact team effectiveness and patient safety.

The BEME review shines a light on the pivotal role that SPs play, and underlines the importance of a structured approach to feedback practices, with adherence to established best practice standards.

This collaborative review, encompassing stakeholders from across the globe, demonstrates the commitment of the healthcare education community to continually enhance the learning experience and, ultimately, the quality of patient care.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.