For many of us, the best way to learn is to have a go: to take as many turns as we need to get it right. Practice makes perfect. But what if having a go has consequences? What if getting it wrong has higher stakes that can’t be resolved by simply pressing the restart button?
By Terri-Beth Williams
As Director* of the Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA) program at West Virginia Junior College (WVJC), Rayan Matthews is responsible for over 180 on-ground and online students across West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. About two-thirds of the students are in the online program, which is growing rapidly, while the numbers in the residential program are dwindling. In late 2018 Rayan adopted the SIMTICS simulation-based product for her online CMA program, and she recently spoke with us about why she chose SIMTICS, her experience so far, and reactions from her students.
Why was there a need for online simulations?
In 2011, the College developed an online education delivery platform to support students who need to balance school with work and family. WVJC Online strives to maintain the same level of service that students experience at the residential campus.
Rayan Matthews joined WVJC five years ago, after working in multiple roles in the medical assisting field since 2004. This was to be her first teaching role.
“I originally applied for a position as a weekend instructor, teaching students on campus, but I was asked to consider the director position which was responsible for the online program. So not only was I new to teaching, but I was also wondering how on earth it was possible to teach medical assisting online!”
Rayan took responsibility for the Online CMA program, which at the time was operating in the state of West Virginia. For the online students, the approach involves assigning them to a campus for a regular clinical session. Staff members, who work as medical assistants during the week, go in to each campus to check off the students’ competencies.
Rayan was then asked to expand the program into two neighboring states. “Due to state guidelines we had to change the ratio of clinical component hours, so I started looking for simulations to enable us to achieve that without affecting the students’ learning opportunities. SIMTICS was one of the options we considered and it is the one we selected. Before SIMTICS I only ran the Online CMA program in the state of West Virginia – now I’m running the program in three states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. We could not have achieved this without SIMTICS.”
Why choose SIMTICS?
When we asked Rayan what prompted her to choose SIMTICS over other medical training resources on the market today, her main criterion was clear: she wanted a product that would accurately represent the real-life situations students would face when working with patients in a clinic. She had seen other products which use animated characters in their simulations, but that wasn’t right for her program.
“None of the other products were as realistic. With SIMTICS it’s like you’re right there, doing the procedure on a patient, which is just what I wanted for my students.”
When it came to choosing the right educational resource for her program, Ms. Matthews wasn’t only looking for realism. She needed a technology platform that would work well for the many students who are located in remote areas with limited and unreliable internet access.
“I had to work closely with our IT Director to check out each product. It was important to know whether the students would be capable of running the product at home, particularly in the southern part of our state (West Virginia). When I was looking at other products the lag time was terrible for some internet providers. But when I found SIMTICS, I actually ran and got our IT Director since it not only looked so realistic but it worked so much better than other products I’d been evaluating.”
Stellar customer support is critical
There was one final factor in Ms. Matthews’ choice of product. Setting up and managing an online learning solution is not always easy, and when you’re putting education tools to work at a distance, you need responsive customer support to be there when you need them and to walk you through the questions and challenges that will inevitably arise.
For Ms. Matthews, the high level of customer care has been one of the most distinctive and valuable features of SIMTICS as a company: “With some other companies, you might have to wait for days for somebody to respond, but with SIMTICS, if I have a question, they answer me right back. It really makes a difference when you’ve got a student on the other line and you need an answer as soon as possible.”
Accelerating teaching and learning
When we asked Rayan how SIMTICS is integrated into her program curriculum and what effect that has had on teachers and students, she explained that the really important part for her students is the simulations. She requires them to go through the practice and test simulations, and they submit proof of their test simulation score which she uses to grade them. Rayan has also found that the ability for students to repeat each activity over and over is a big advantage, helping them to “lock in” all the steps for each procedure, right from gaining consent, to performing the procedure, including the post-procedure considerations.
Another significant benefit has been the effect on teaching. “Since we’ve been using SIMTICS, by the time the students come in to do the hands-on part on campus, my instructors can honestly move at a faster pace with them, rather than having to start at point A. The students have already done all the academic bookwork and completed all the simulations, so they have the knowledge they need to recognize the medical terminology, and the instruments and equipment they need for each procedure. Now, when the instructor gets to them, they are prepared and ready to jump right in.” Rayan says this gives her instructors extra time to help each student truly master the skills, which is better for the students and more rewarding for the faculty.
Rayan also notes that the interactive nature of the SIMTICS product appeals to the learning preferences of her allied health students, promoting interest, mastery, and memorization. “Interacting, doing; this is how my students learn best. SIMTICS is amazingly wonderful for this, it helps to lock in their knowledge. Anybody can look at a book, but when they actually do it in a simulation, they remember it… After studying with SIMTICS, it’s like the whole procedure is automatically embedded in their brains.”
Students “love it”!
Rayan laughed when we asked what kind of feedback she’d had from her students since integrating SIMTICS into the curriculum. “Oh my gosh, they love it.” She went on to explain that since using SIMTICS modules, she’s been able to significantly expand the number of student assignments each week and noted, “There has not been one complaint, because it’s fun and it’s interactive. They’re not just reading. It’s like real life for them. They love it and they don’t complain about the workload.”
And it’s not just the students’ interest that’s piqued by SIMTICS—so is their sense of pride and accomplishment in their learning. Rayan says: “One student told me, ‘I made my mom watch me do a procedure in SIMTICS because she couldn’t believe I could ever do something like that. She thought it was really cool to see exactly what I will do in real life.’ I was so pleased to hear that. For me, it’s all about the students, seeing them succeed.”
Advice for other instructors?
Rayan recalled her initial reluctance to use a web-based product. “I was very old school, so I was thinking, how can you teach medical assisting online? Will online simulations work? Of course, doing it on a computer is different than, say, performing a blood draw on an actual patient … But we have to face that times have changed. The generation of students we’re working with now are computer gurus compared to some of us. They like using computers and they expect technology to be part of their learning.”
We asked Rayan if she had any advice for those who are looking for web-based simulations or considering integrating SIMTICS into their program curriculum. “SIMTICS has changed my program for the better. As a long-time MA professional, I never believed that a simulation could be so realistic. So I would say, give SIMTICS a chance. You’d be surprised at how effective it is.”
*Rayan was program director at WVJC from 2014 to 2019, so has left the school since contributing to this article, but she remains a huge fan of SIMTICS. The SimTutor team would like to express their sincere thanks for her time and insights that inspired this article.
– By Angelique Praat –
We wouldn’t be overstating the case to say that Shelly Zimbelman was initially skeptical about teaching the clinical skills of her profession using computer-based simulations. Her first reaction was unequivocal: “There is no way you can simulate an ultrasound scan of a patient by using just a computer and a mouse!”