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When you think of simulation you probably imagine a fighter pilot or astronaut sitting in a simulated cockpit practicing emergency landings. Simulation-Based Education (SBE) does get its origins from such flight-based training and this experiential teaching-learning methodology has rapidly become an essential component to training doctors and other healthcare providers to master technical life-saving skills, enhance their teamwork skills essential for today’s collaborative healthcare settings, and even enrich their critical interpersonal skills which enhances the patient experience.

When it comes to medical education, you may have heard the adage, “see one, do one, teach one,” referring to a physician watching a particular procedure once before performing it themselves. While there’s something to be said for learning by doing, this old way of training healthcare professionals simply doesn’t prepare future physicians for the high standard of care expected in today’s healthcare system.


SBE is an essential training approach that allows learners to immerse themselves in a simulated clinical scenario that looks and feels real, making it more likely they will be able to fully engage in the life-like learning activity and experience the feelings of pressure and urgency they will encounter when in an actual healthcare setting. Using high-tech equipment, live patients and families, interactive mannequins, and cadavers, medical and healthcare trainees can challenge and improve their skills.

“The ability for learners to practice in a space that is both physically and psychologically safe is a game changer when it comes to providing health education experiences,” says Associate Dean of Continuing Professional Development and Medical Education and the Director of Simulation for the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Stephen Miller. “In order to prepare the next generation of physicians to provide highly skilled patient care, we need to allow them to make mistakes, ask questions, get feedback, and incorporate new knowledge when they try again.”

The training happens under the supervision of a healthcare professional and may even be recorded. This gives the opportunity for thorough evaluation and feedback to be provided to medical trainees. Although SBE is especially useful for novice medical trainees with limited clinical exposure, it is also beneficial for experienced medical professionals, as any medical situation can be replicated, and more experienced trainees can benefit from recreating complex, rare, and dangerous situations. No matter a trainee’s level of experience, this type of training helps improve patient outcomes.

Dalhousie is Atlantic Canada’s leader in training the highly skilled healthcare leaders, and clinical simulation is integral to the training of medical, nursing, physician assistant, and all other students across allied health professions. Simulation training facilities are housed in various locations across campus but are mainly concentrated in the Collaborative Health Education Building and is known as Dalhousie’s Centre for Collaborative Clinical Learning and Research (C3LR).


The C3LR is an interprofessional and comprehensive space where students and experts alike can practice and learn complex healthcare procedures in an environment that feels and acts like real life. That is the reality of Dalhousie’s expanded 3CLR. “The appreciation and understanding of simulation-based education as an educational pedagogy is growing—especially within the health professions,” says Dr. Noel Pendergast, Director, Centre for Collaborative Clinical Learning and Research (C3LR). “There are now evidence-informed, best practice standards in simulation-based education that inform our work at the C3LR.”

Dr. Pendergast estimates hundreds of students use the existing C3LR every day, reaching over 500 students per week, from Medicine, Nursing, Nurse Practitioner, and other Faculty of Health departments like Physical and Occupational Therapy, Pharmacy, Social Work, Respiratory Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, and more. “The impact is significant as we are preparing students for applying their learning in real-life practice with our community members,” he says.

This type of collaborative care is the future of our health care system, and the C3LR makes it possible for these interdisciplinary teams to practice working together, the way they will in clinical practice, hospital settings, and beyond. “During interprofessional simulations, when students from two or more professions learn about, from, and with each other, students learn how collaborate and communicate as team members in caring for patients and families,” says Dr. Pendergast.

In addition to the vital simulation education, the C3LR is also used to perform important research and a number of research studies have been conducted on some of the simulations that occur at the C3LR, especially the interprofessional simulation activities that have taken place.

Key to all simulation learning is the ability for other students and faculty to monitor and record the exercise and then debrief to understand what worked and what could be improved. This monitoring capacity enables medical learners to practice their skills in a realistic but safe setting until they are confident they have achieved mastery.


With healthcare shortages on everyone’s mind, all hands are on deck to train more new doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers as fast as we can. “Nursing, Nurse practitioner, and Medicine programs at Dal have all seen increased enrollment over the past 3-5 years putting additional pressure on an already stretched thin health system for clinical placements,” says Dr. Pendergast. “For example, Nursing has recently seen a 20 to 30 per cent increase in simulation hours to help augment and support their clinical practice.”

As a result of this increased demand, and of programs such as the recently announced Physician’s Assistant program, a full 18,000-square-foot expansion of medical simulation facilities is needed. An expanded C3LR is vital to getting Atlantic Canadians the healthcare they need and deserve.

Located on Dalhousie's Halifax campus, in the Collaborative Health Education Building (CHEB), the expanded C3LR will be a state-of-the-art space that provides a full range of clinically focused learning opportunities to student doctors, nurses, and other health care professions, as well as practicing clinicians. The new space will include a 6000-square foot development of four high fidelity simulation suites which currently does not exist on campus.


SBE is also key to unlocking access to the many international and out-of-region healthcare providers by providing facilities for skills assessment, training, and testing to ultimately speed up their licensing. This training facility expansion will be a key resource in changing the face of healthcare in our region and beyond, by supporting the attraction, training, and licensing of our critical, lifesaving talent.


Dalhousie’s investment in this critical expansion of the C3LR has attracted the interest and support of healthcare partners such as the Province of Nova Scotia but our donors will be stepping up to help in a big way. The Faculty of Medicine Advancement team is actively engaging with our many loyal donors to discuss how they can support this important expansion that will help us produce the doctors and nurses that our region urgently needs.