The nine recent graduates from the University of Central Florida College of Nursing Healthcare Simulation program are the first in the state fully trained to lead in the high demand field.

Health care simulation is the perfect blend of educational theory, active practice, innovative technology and self-reflection. I firmly believe this is the future of all hospital education,” said Karenna Thatcher, ’17MSN, RN, nurse residency program coordinator at Florida Hospital.

Thatcher is one of the graduates from the unique program and among a growing number of health care simulation professionals. To meet the national need for qualified experts, the college created Florida’s first Nursing and Healthcare Simulation graduate program last year. The online program, which is led by three certified health care simulation educators, is available to both nurses and non-nurses and uses state-of-the-art technology including life-like simulated “patients.”

“At UCF, we are taught by the best of the best in health care simulation,” continued Thatcher, who earned her master’s degree last month. “I plan to seek certification as a health care simulation educator, and further my career in this field at Florida Hospital by incorporating more simulations into the onboarding and training of new nurses transitioning to practice.”

Florida Hospital isn’t the only health care system using simulation. “Health care systems are embracing simulation as an effective set of strategies that enhances the quality of care,” said Dr. Christine Park, president of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. “Numerous studies demonstrate that simulation more effectively prepares all types of providers, including physicians, nurses and first responders across the full spectrum of experience. Simulation provides the opportunity to learn, analyze error and maintain life-saving skills before working on actual patients.”

And before working in a real-life clinical setting.

“At our college’s Simulation, Technology, Innovation and Modeling (STIM) center, students are strengthening their clinical skills as well as their communication skills, empathy and compassion – all critical to nursing – through simulated educational experiences,” said Desiree Diaz, PhD, RN-BC, CNE, CHSE-A, assistant professor and one of two advanced certified simulation educators on faculty who are among only 22 in the world. “Through simulation, students will see and care for multicultural and multigenerational patients as well as patients with health care disparities. Unique simulations offer the ability to care for high risk, low volume patients such as obstetric emergencies and transgender patients.”

Among the faculty and staff helping to develop and implement inventive simulation experiences at the college to benefit students, and ultimately patients, is Syretta Spears. “Simulation is a collaborative effort, which requires nursing educators that teach and non-clinical professionals that manage and operate the facilities and equipment necessary for educators to be successful,” said Spears, manager of the college’s STIM center and the first non-nurse to complete the health care simulation graduate certificate. “I would absolutely recommend the program to other non-clinical simulation professionals.”

“This experience has been amazing,” said Starla Lowry, ’17MSN, RN, adjunct instructor at both UCF and Seminole State College and also among the first cohort of students to earn the certificate. “In addition to building simulations and programming, I have learned how to build a simulation center, how to obtain funding and manage budgets.”

In total, nine students completed the innovative program last month – two earning a master’s degree in nursing and healthcare simulation and seven earning a certificate in healthcare simulation. Through the comprehensive program, students develop skills for leading simulation programs in education, team training and quality improvement in health care. The second cohort will graduate in December.

“Simulation is a highly beneficial educational tool to enhance traditional learning in higher education and on-the-job,” said Mindi Anderson, PhD, ARNP, CPNP-PC, CNE, CHSE-A, ANEF, associate professor and program director. “As demand for highly skilled and educated nurses continues to grow nationwide, so will the demand for qualified nursing and health care simulation experts.”

The college accepts applications to the master’s track twice a year and once a year for the certificate track. Due to Hurricane Irma, the application deadline for the master’s track has been extended through Oct. 15 with classes commencing spring 2018.