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VA Palo Alto Health Care System

As I reflect on my early childhood, my fondest memories are of me and my dolls. I LOVED my dolls. I cared for them as if they were my own and took them with me everywhere. I had a beautiful doll carriage that my dad had painted, which I would take on long walks. Flash forward a whole bunch of years, and I am still playing with dolls and pushing them around on long walks. The difference now is that these “dolls” are expensive, sophisticated simulators that travel on medical gurneys through hospital corridors with the purpose of improving patient outcomes.
I have been a nurse for 29 years, and, as I recall, my school of nursing used standardized patients for practicing “therapeutic communication.” We had some dolls in our skills lab, but mostly we practiced on each other. None of this was referred to as simulation.
As many things happen in life, my simulation journey landed in my lap by fate. I was introduced to the company Laerdal through a recruiter, who was insistent that I speak with them and that this job would be great! I took a chance and after having an amazing phone conversation with David Lacombe, I knew this was going to be more than great. I was quickly embedded into a world of simulation and introduced to one of the original SimMan3G’s. I travelled to nearly every Kaiser facility and got to meet and work with numerous experts in the field. I quickly learned how these “plastic people” were much more real than one could imagine, and I realized the significant impact they had on learning. Between hauling a PROMPT on my back, quickly assembling a SimMan3G in a conference room, and trying to hide wires and tubing for a tiny baby to make it look “real,” I knew that this was a world in which I was meant to work.
Through another chance assignment, I was privileged to teach a SimMan3G class at Stanford University in their then newly constructed simulation space. Meeting this group of experts was an honor, despite tough questions about connectivity, alarms, and waveforms. Flash forward a year and I was working with these fine fellows at the VA hospital in Palo Alto. The mothership! I had landed.
Having three sons, I was well prepared for working with the main three physicians in the simulation center: Dr. David Gaba, Dr. Steve Howard, and Dr. Kyle Harrison. Their energy and Nike philosophy of “Just Do It” was contagious. My charge was to introduce simulation throughout the hospital and beyond the doors of medicine. I saw myself as the Simulation Evangelist, spreading the good word of how simulation was here to save the day. It was not hard to get others on board. Five years later, nearly every departmenet in my facility has had some form of simulation training. There is no place I am afraid to take a simulator, nor is there any role I am shy to play.
An important part of my five-year simulation journey has been the completion of a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree under the guidance of Dr. KT Waxman. I also became one of a handful of CHSE-As last year and have my own simulation website. Today, I work full time managing the simulation operations at the VA; teach part time at the University of San Francisco in the Masters of Simulation Program; and am faculty with the California Simulation Alliance. My life is all about simulation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The impact on learners is immeasurable (although as researchers we do need to measure!). I am always struck by the happy faces and the requests for more training. Patients love seeing the manikins as I walk through the halls, and I enjoy telling them what we do with them to improve their care.
Does simulation make a difference? You bet it does! This is my story. The plastic people are my beautiful people. This is #MySimulatedLife.