The generous room inside Sharp's simulation center
The first thing that stuck out about simulation labs to Carmen N. Spalding, PhD, RN, CHSE-A, wasn’t the technology, the size of the rooms or the processes set in place. It was the actors who made the simulations so believable.
“We would train them up to be a patient with pneumonia, and you could see them having trouble breathing,” Spalding said. “They emulated a person that had pneumonia so well that you forgot they were actually actors. That’s when the lightbulb lit up and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Spalding was hired as Sharp HealthCare's director of simulation and innovative learning in February 2023. Working at the Sharp Prebys Innovation and Education Center’s Terrence and Barbara Caster Institute for Nursing Excellence, she leads immersive programs to enhance healthcare workers’ experience so they can be better prepared for working with patients in clinical scenarios.
At the James S. Brown Simulation Center, doctors, nurses and pharmacists will use both high-fidelity manikins -- realistic patient simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology -- and human actors as standardized patients, depending on the purpose of the simulation. For example, if a critical piece to the training is communication, they will use people.
"The future is bright and the opportunity is vast. We’re all in this together to build a better Sharp. It’s really our way of being able to pay it forward."
"The manikin can demonstrate a lot of the physiology that we can’t have a human do. I can’t change a person’s heartrate, but on the manikin I can," she said. "However, because using a human being is the most realistic modality we have, if there’s a way we can use a human, I will try to use a human."
Spalding, who earned her master's degree in nursing from San Diego State in 2010, worked with simulation labs at University of San Diego, Azusa Pacific University and the Naval Medical Center San Diego prior to starting at Sharp. Following her every step of the way have been her actors -- one of whom, she said, proudly, earned a role in a soap opera.
“I love working with them,” Spalding said. “They’re such amazing and incredible people.”
They’re the reason that upon joining Sharp, she wanted to make an immediate donation. At the James S. Brown Simulation Center, Spalding donated a naming gift to the standardized patient changing room, dedicating it to the actors she has relied on to expand simulation use and "help bring healthcare education to life."
"We are grateful for Carmen and her expertise and generosity as she leads our simulation program forward. Philanthropy is helping Sharp to be the best place to work by providing advanced training and learning through both the Caster Insitute and the Brown Simulation Center."
“I love that I was able to honor my actors,” Spalding said. “They’ve been incredibly loyal to me. They’ve followed me around. They’ve been patient with me as I’ve tried to build programs."
Among Spalding's goals include gaining accreditation through the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, possibly partnering with additional universities and expanding her team. She’s already looking forward to the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare in January 2024, where topics like virtual reality, innovative technology and best practices in healthcare simulation will be discussed.
“The future is bright and the opportunity is vast,” she said. “We’re all in this together to build a better Sharp. It’s really our way of being able to pay it forward.”