Nursing: Virtual Simulation vs Real Life Clinical, which is better?

by Julie Julie (Admin)

Specializes in Sm Bus Mgmt, Operations, Planning, HR, Coaching. Has 40 years experience.

I have read so much about how some nursing schools turned to virtual reality for the clinical experience - or some version of online simulation - last year when the pandemic hit. 

Makes me wonder how well these students have been prepared?  Not real life, however with simulation many various scenarios can be presented.  Perhaps scenarios that would be unlikely to occur during a short rotation.  Is this better or worse than real life learning?

Would love to hear your first hand experience.  Tell us about your experience training using virtual reality or working with a student nurse that learned using computer simulations.  What do you think the long term fall out will be?

Hannahbanana, BSN, MSN

Specializes in Physiology, CM, consulting, nsg edu, LNC, COB. Has 52 years experience. 1,187 Posts

There are great advantages to sims, not the least of which being you can’t really do them any actual, permanent injury. Great for very nervous newbies who have never seen or touched a naked stranger, at very least. 
OTOH, obviously even with the best of interactivity provided in their programming or controls, they won’t approach interaction c a real human c fears and feelings.
Furthermore, you have to recognize that all new grads are scared and feel incompetent to some degree, no matter what kind of clinicals/sims/combinations their programs offered. But research into new grads in their first year of work shows that everybody catches up in their first year of work regardless. 

Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in OR, Nursing Professional Development. Has 17 years experience. 5 Articles; 11,141 Posts

Prior to COVID, my local nursing school took part in a study. Some students had 10% of clinical time in sim, another group had 25%, and another group had 50%. The 25% group had the easiest transition to life as a licensed nurse in self-reported surveys. Yes, sim has its benefits, but it can't fully replace that in-person experience. 


TheMoonisMyLantern, ADN, LPN, RN

Specializes in Mental health, substance abuse, geriatrics, PCU. Has 15 years experience. 1 Article; 922 Posts

On one hand I'm skeptical of "virtual clinicals", on the other hand clinical experiences overall seem to get more neutered with each passing year. Less time per day, per semester, per program. Less hands on instructors. Fewer hours per clinical day. There's a higher pressure to pass students, there's more competition for clinical sites. 

Currently a year is the target goal to get new grads to be fairly independent, yet how many folks do you all see leave the bedside within 1-2 years for whatever reason. I don't think 1 year is good enough. Complexity of the bedside is increasing while new graduates are seemingly less prepared for those complexities. 

I feel like in our desire to elevate nursing from a "trade" to a "profession" and to intellectualize nursing that we're losing sight of our most vital role which is hands on caregiving whether it's in a hospital, nursing facility, clinic, home setting, school setting, prison setting, etc. Certainly we need great thinkers and leaders and many other roles but we are caregivers first.