WSU nursing simulation program takes the next step forward

Nursing students working in the simulation lab
All Bachelor of Science in Nursing students at WSU and some graduate students take part in clinical simulations using sophisticated mannequins.

Simulation has been a cornerstone of nursing education at Washington State University for nearly a decade.

The WSU College of Nursing participated in a landmark study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing on how much simulation could replace in-person clinical education; it found that up to 50% simulation could be effectively substituted for traditional clinical experience.

Now, all undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and some graduate students take part in clinical simulations using sophisticated mannequins and actors called standardized patients. Simulation provides a lifelike healthcare environment where students can apply their clinical skills, integrate theory from their coursework and prepare for the transition to their clinical rotations. All three locations where the College of Nursing offers the BSN program – Spokane, Yakima and the Tri-Cities – have have simulation and skills labs.

This year, the college’s simulation program will take another step forward with a new name and a new focus on simulation scenarios that more closely reflect the world nursing students will enter.

“The pandemic jump-started this new look at our simulation program,” said Dawn DePriest, director of the newly named Center for Experiential Learning. “Clinical sites shut down to our students at the beginning of the pandemic, and there’s always the fear that could happen again. So we wanted to make sure the learning opportunities in our simulations were giving students the best possible preparation for the people and cases they could encounter once they graduate, or to fill gaps in experience at clinical sites they may not be able to have access to.”

Charlene Clark, a pioneer in simulation

1976 portrait of charlene clark
Charlene Clark in 1976

As a faculty member at the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education, Charlene Clark thought there was a better way to teach nursing skills than to watch an instructor demonstrate them at the front of the classroom. She developed a practice lab where students could read about a skill and watch a video, then practice it on their own. Read more about this true pioneer in nursing simulation, at this link.

The program, for example, will have a new focus on diversity in the patient cases to represent the populations of Washington state. It will introduce more detailed and evidence-based simulation scenarios. And the program plans to leverage more technology, such as simulated electronic medical records, to improve safety and the transition to practice.

Simulation will be threaded throughout graduate-program assessments using both electronic platforms and standardized patients.

Finally, there will be more faculty training in simulation, application and effective feedback so that the lessons of simulation carry throughout the curriculum.

“Our graduates have told us how much they use what they learned in simulation once they’re on the job as nurses,” said DePriest. “We also help the community by providing simulation space and training to outside groups. All in all, our focus on simulation has been a big benefit to our students and our college and we’re continuing to build on that.”

Healthcare Simulation Week, September 13-19, 2021
Sponsored by the Society for Simulation and Healthcare, this event celebrates professionals who use simulation to improve the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. Please contact us at for a tour of our center, to meet the team, or to learn more about the WSU College of Nursing’s healthcare simulation program.