Virtual Clinical Simulations as an Effective Teaching Tool for Nursing Programs

Featured Partner: American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers accredited online degree programs in nursing (BSN, MSN and DNP), and healthcare management. This quarter, American Sentinal University discusses with INACSL, “Virtual Clinical Simulations as an Effective Teaching tool for Nursing Programs.”

Do you remember your first day as a nurse? If you are like most nurses, you were fully engaged, adrenaline was up, and you were relying on what you learned in classes and especially in clinicals to make critical decisions for your patients. Nurse educators today are challenged to get students that practical experience, meaningful time on the hospital floor or in clinics, that is so important. Philosophies about learning are changing and giving rise to new approaches such as competency-based education and teaching tools designed to engage today’s nursing students.

No Clinical Placement Waiting List


“It’s well-known that public health clinical sites are few and far between. Identifying and managing agreement opportunities for students has been a huge challenge,” explains Danni Reinisch, a Public Health Nursing Instructor at Minot State University.

Her thoughts are echoed by Cynthia Carter, an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Georgia Highlands College. “Finding meaningful clinical experiences has been difficult. Even when I can get students into clinical rotations, they often are not allowed to practice skills, but are restricted to watching a public health nurse chart. Not only is that not meaningful, it’s dull and uninspiring.”  Carter then adds that students today expect information to be delivered in ways that intrigue and motivate. “They’ve grown up with technology and learn best when the experience is interactive.”

Reinisch teaches in a classroom and online, using Sentinel City® and Sentinel Town® Virtual Clinical Simulations Healthcare Learning Innovations in both forums. The simulations leverage cutting-edge technology to create an immersive, interactive learning experience. Students become avatars who explore urban and rural environments, meeting the people who “live” there. Their assignments cover everything from virtual urban community assessments to natural disasters and population-focused interventions. Developed in collaboration with nurse education experts, the assignments are aligned to AACN BSN Essentials, QSEN and NLN core competencies.


All of Carter’s students are online. She also uses both Sentinel City and Sentinel Town in her Community Health course. She incorporates about 75% of the assignments included in the course catalog in her curriculum and has found that they are so effective she has eliminated the textbook. Instead, she finds and distributes articles relevant to the assigned topic each week, saving her students money while integrating traditional instruction into the work.

The Proof is in the Outcomes

The big question is: “Are virtual clinical simulations effective?” Both nurse educators and the NLN think so. “I feel it provides a great learning experience, more so than writing a paper in many instances. The simulation prompts them to support their choices with evidence-based practice research, to bring their own perspective to situations and use critical thinking skills to make decisions in developing care plans,” says Carter.

Reinisch says, “What’s beneficial for me is that I know exactly what they are doing and seeing. The proof that they are meeting learning objectives is in the work they turn in each week.”


In 2015, the NLN recognized computer-based simulations as “a rich learning opportunity for students to integrate theory with practice while making real-time clinical decisions in an environment that poses no risk to patients.”

You know how important a blend of didactic learning, sim lab practice and training during rotations are for getting nurses ready for that first day, first year and career. What if there was no waiting list for clinicals, your students could learn at their own pace, and make mistakes without risk? They can. Healthcare Learning Innovations makes it possible.