COVID-19 and rising student numbers are affecting healthcare education, particularly access to clinical placements. As healthcare education is increasingly supported by technology and non-traditional teaching methods, educational experiences gained through clinical placement also require new approaches. This article explores and discusses the use of a simulated clinical placement for a dietetic student cohort. During this virtual placement, students were able to explore and experience a virtual clinical setting and immerse themselves in a placement experience. A vast range of virtual resources were linked to the online placement portal, including statutory and mandatory training, dietetic resources, patient journeys and interprofessional communication. Advantages of this approach include that all students experience a given situation, unlike in traditional placements where workloads, variety and engagement vary; there is also no risk to patient safety. The aim is to enhance the learning experience to create effective, efficient clinicians. This virtual placement for dietetics is part of a bigger project to develop and evaluate the use of a virtual placement framework in a range of professions. The concept of virtual placement may have been brought forward by the COVID-19 crisis but was inevitable with the move to more technology-enhanced learning tools.
Simulation is a component of healthcare education and can be used successfully for collaboration between professions to develop interprofessional skills (Costello, 2017). Alongside online simulation sits virtual simulation, which can be defined as ‘not physically existing but made to appear [so] by software’ (Lioce et al, 2020). Virtual simulation builds on the foundations of online simulation and incorporates individual resources into a coherent set of experiences based around a collective group of learning objectives. An example of this is the use of 360° field-of-view (FOV) cameras to produce interactive images, which enable students to explore a virtual clinical setting and immerse themselves in a placement experience. Previous use of virtual simulation in nursing education has shown there is a positive correlation between its use and enhanced knowledge retention and student satisfaction (Padilha et al, 2019).
Simulated clinical experience engagement with and between students can be synchronous, which occurs in real time, or asynchronous, where the material is available and can be accessed by students at a time that suits them. Wong (2013) showed that students engage better with material that is available asynchronously and they spend varying amounts of time using the resource, allowing for a more adaptable student learning experience across a range of engagement styles. Analysing a previous event allows better retention, deeper learning and a greater likelihood of knowledge transfer (INACSL, 2016). This can be done online and, to maximise its effectiveness, should be carried out one-to-one or in small groups (Gordon, 2017).
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