This has been a year of turmoil and triumph in the nursing profession. We witnessed a mass exodus of seasoned nurses largely due the extraordinary demands – both physical and mental – brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, but we have also seen a surge in enrollment in nursing schools with students eager to enter the healthcare field. While that alone is cause for celebration, what I am most excited about is how simulation will play an increasingly pivotal role in nursing education.

The nursing shortage forced us to find alternative clinical experiences

When COVID-19 struck in the spring of 2020, healthcare workers endured enormous pressure. Nurses were working around the clock – many being called into critical care positions for the first time in their careers. They struggled to care for patients and, as a result, too many amazing caregivers left the field.

The resulting nursing shortage left fewer seasoned nurses available to precept nursing students. Exacerbating the situation, nursing clinicals were cancelled as hospitals closed to all non-essential workers. Nursing educators scrambled to find new ways to provide students with real-world experiences, relying heavily on simulation to develop core competencies and provide practical experience.

Decision-making skills and assessment competencies will become the focus of education

With a new set of Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education and a revamped Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) poised for launch in the next year, nurse educators will need to rethink how students are instructed.

 All indications are that the NGN will adopt the clinical judgement model. Students will be required to read and analyze a case study, apply their base of knowledge, and then make informed decisions on patient care. Just like in real life, there will be variables that need to be considered and situations to assess.

In order to prepare students for success using a clinical judgement model, tried and true didactic models are no longer applicable. We must take a holistic approach to teaching, ensuring that nursing students are able to transfer what they learn from lecture and text and confidently apply it to the patient presenting before them. Students need to encounter a wide variety of scenarios that challenge their critical thinking skills in a self-contained and risk-free environment. This is the very crux of virtual simulation and I expect its applications to expand in the coming year.

Nurse educators will have the freedom to be innovative within a pedagogy that’s been disrupted and forever changed

As 2021 ends, it is apparent that virtual simulation has solidified itself as a critical component in nursing education. It is no longer seen as simply a supplement to traditional teaching methods. Rather, it has become the go-to methodology.

If the pandemic gave us one thing, it has been the license to be innovative. Not only did nurse educators embrace simulation, but they started utilizing it in ways I never thought possible.

In the coming years, we will need to research and assess how these new applications influenced outcomes. Academic and scholarly research, including those participating in our inaugural Sentinel U Nursing Simulation Research Grant (SUNSRG) program will provide us with valuable data that will reinforce the resourceful and innovative changes we’ve implemented these past two years.

This is an exciting time to be a nurse educator. Our creativity amid chaos allowed us to open the doors to a whole new world. I now imagine a future where simulation is fully integrated into nursing education. In 2022, I predict we will continue to challenge preconceptions. Methodologies that were once considered sacred in nursing education will continue to be rewritten.

Our potential will only be limited by our imaginations.