Advancing Healthcare Simulation Through Strategic ROI Planning and New Program Development

Lee M. Wittmann
Innovation Showcase

Through rapid growth, acquisition of costly medical simulation equipment, and the expansion of technology-centered simulation facilities, Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech) has become one of the largest and most advanced providers of healthcare simulation programs in North Carolina. New state-of-the-art simulation labs in nursing, radiology, emergency medical sciences, dental assisting, dental hygiene, medical assisting, natural sciences, nurse aid, and medical lab technology have also made Wake Tech a focal point in the simulation community. But with these advancements come new challenges. Increases in departmental purchasing requests, simulation technology maintenance, specialized professional development, equipment utilization tracking, and resource management sharing have placed new demands on the Health Sciences Division.

As a part of the college’s annual Applied Benchmarking process, which empowers all employees to develop innovative solutions to institutional challenges based on best practices, the leadership at Wake Tech invested in the market research and development of a new-to-system program in healthcare simulation in fall 2016. This paper describes the Applied Benchmarking work that led to the implementation of North Carolina’s first Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Healthcare Simulation Technology, which begins in fall 2018.

In 2000, the first mass-produced high-fidelity simulation manikins were introduced to healthcare educators. The SimMan® manikin revolutionized the method by which doctors, nurses, paramedics, radiologists, respiratory therapists, and specialists in many other areas of healthcare train students and evaluate the proficiency of practicing providers. Since the release of SimMan, the use of simulation in the healthcare industry has grown at an extraordinary rate. Simulation departments in all areas of healthcare are now driving how students are taught, how employees are screened and hired, and how healthcare providers are trained and remediated.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2011), "Simulation allows healthcare practitioners to acquire the skills and valuable experience they need safely, in a variety of clinical settings, without putting patients at risk" (p. 1). With this in mind, it is essential for well-trained simulation specialists to be available to operate these manikins day-to-day. However, Wake Tech’s market research into current practices in the field indicates that many current simulation educators have received little or no formal training. This leaves the industry in a bind, with many costly, high-fidelity simulators going underutilized and some not used at all.

New career options in healthcare simulation are being offered around the country to meet the rapidly expanding demand for highly skilled simulation specialists. Jobs ranging from entry-level positions like healthcare simulation technologists, healthcare simulation educators, graduate-level administrators, and research positions are in high demand within the field of simulation and permeate into all fields of medicine. The rapid growth in technology, healthcare, and education in North Carolina, and Wake County specifically, presents Wake Tech with an opportunity to help students tap into this new and expanding career field. One such example is the successful implementation of the Simulation and Gaming Development program at Wake Tech in 2003. This program grew as a result of an increased demand from local technology companies for highly skilled programmers and artists. The Healthcare Simulation Technology program at Wake Tech is the result of a similar need in the local healthcare industry.

Health Education at Wake Technical Community College

The health education departments at Wake Tech currently using medical simulation equipment are thriving. Recent investments in simulation technologies, facility infrastructure, and highly trained faculty have placed the Health Sciences Division above industry standards. The leadership at Wake Tech is committed to simulation technologies as demonstrated through funding increases, while educational resources are being stretched. However, while the institution is strong in most areas of medical simulation, we have identified areas of improvement aimed at increasing offerings for our students in high-paying fields, while increasing the efficiency of the divisions' resources and offsetting start-up costs for developing a new program.

At the time of the Applied Benchmarking project, all Health Sciences programs were working independently of one another, with each department purchasing simulation equipment for its own use. A feasibility study run by Wake Tech Health Sciences faculty revealed evidence of a high demand for all levels of healthcare simulation education in our community. Findings indicated that numerous medical schools, teaching hospitals, and EMS providers will support future employment for students graduating with a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree in Healthcare Simulation Technology. Additionally, little in the way of additional funding for simulation resources is required to supply a newly formed Healthcare Simulation department. The diversity of Wake Tech’s current Health Sciences programs and the equipment the college already owns increases the return on investment. Students entering the college’s Healthcare Simulation department will have access to professionals from many different disciplines capable of providing student-centered learning in their area of expertise. Furthermore, an extensive national program search in spring 2018 revealed that only two postsecondary programs in the United States offer an associate’s degree in Healthcare Simulation Technology, and there were no such offerings in North Carolina or in the Southern U.S. at that time. Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Healthcare Simulation are currently available, but very few entry-level degree programs are offered.

Based on the Applied Benchmarking project, Wake Tech faculty developed a new A.A.S. program of study in Healthcare Simulation Technology. They made the case that the program will directly help students by providing them with more opportunities for jobs with labor-market value, improve simulation equipment utilization, and increase the return on investment throughout the division by making better use of the simulation equipment and supplies Wake Tech already owns. And since simulation equipment and supplies do not have to be purchased to operate this department, the start-up costs are minimal. Additionally, faculty noted that the program does not have to look to outside agencies to meet the laboratory demand of our students. New accreditation requirements for healthcare simulation are quickly changing the way our students learn and the methods by which our instructors teach simulation. Health science programs must balance the need for valuable lab spaces, patient safety and confidentiality concerns, and increased clinical faculty costs. Healthcare simulation educators can reduce the local clinical demands on hospitals, clinics, and EMS agencies by assuring that students have already gained valuable experience treating patients through simulation before live patient encounters. The rich diversity of Wake Tech health science programs, highly trained faculty, and existing simulation equipment will allow the Healthcare Simulation Technology program to offer students excellent faculty-directed learning experiences in our simulation labs without the necessity of leaving campus or forming outside agency affiliations for lab experiences.

Following approval by Wake Technical Community College’s Curriculum Program Review Committee in fall 2017, the Board of Trustees recommended moving forward with the proposal to the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) to launch a new A.A.S. program of study in Healthcare Simulation Technology. After the NCCCS unanimously adopted the program, it was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) on March 19, 2018, and the first cohort of students started this fall. Healthcare Simulation Technicians (SIM-Techs) will be trained to set up, operate, and manipulate patient manikins, multimedia systems, and computer programs for the production of realistic simulations that replicate medical conditions found in modern healthcare. Wake Tech’s SIM-Tech students will learn through concentrated classroom, laboratory, and scenario-based training. Heavy emphasis will be placed on communication skills, high-fidelity manikin operations and maintenance, and scenario development from initial storyboarding to production. Qualifying students have two options for entry: a 16-hour certificate course for experienced healthcare providers and a 66-hour A.A.S. for students without experience in healthcare or simulation.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2011, September). Improving patient safety through simulation research: Funded projects, AHRQ Pub. No. 11-P012-EF. Retrieved From

Lee M. Wittmann is the Program Director and a professor in the Healthcare Simulation Technology program at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.