SIM Wars Test Emergency Teamwork

Dr. Christopher Sampson
Dr. Christopher Sampson

It will be business as usual for SIM Wars at Emergency Nursing 2021 – A Hybrid Xperience.

That means high-stakes decision making in unpredictable scenarios for the teams competing in the fifth annual event.

But working well under pressure is what emergency care professionals do best.

“Most of the time in your day-to-day work in the emergency department, you’re using a lot of the same skills you’ll be tested on in the competition itself,” said Dr. Christopher Sampson, who has coordinated the competition since bringing it to ENA’s annual education and networking conference in 2017. “It’s a clinical competition that not only tests teams’ medical knowledge but also their ability to work together as a team.”

The victors earn a year of bragging rights and their name etched on a large trophy prominently displayed in the lobby at ENA Headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Last year’s contestants faced an extra challenge as the simulation, as with the entire conference, took place in a virtual environment. At EN21, SIM Wars will return to a two-stage, in-person format with new teams put to the test throughout the day in front of a live audience.

“Being together in person with your teammates standing in front of the ‘patient’ makes it much more realistic,” said Sampson, director of education and clinical research at the University of Missouri-Columbia and associate clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at MU. “It really ratchets up the stress level.”

The 2020 virtual competition wasn’t without its share of excitement. One team had to overcome communication difficulties caused by an unstable internet connection. Their ability to work through the obstacle did not secure the win, but it illustrated the real-world parallels of the challenges teams face in the competition.

Chris Kroboth
Chris Kroboth

“It’s great to be getting back to an in-person event with real humans since that’s what we treat. But the virtual world brought a unique opportunity in that we were able to still share a simulated monitor screen and live patient over Zoom along with sending Demo Dose medications for the teams to actually draw up and give,” said SIM Wars co-organizer Chris Kroboth, clinical education manager for iSimulate. “We didn’t allow COVID to get away from realism.”

Realism is a crucial component to the simulation, from the four-person teams to the available equipment to the live “patients” played by local nursing students.

“Our goal is to wash away the artificiality of scenarios and make it more realistic,” Kroboth said. “It’s like another day at work.”

Recruiting nursing students or new graduates to role-play as patients benefits both the competitors and the actors, he said. The SIM Wars teams receive non-verbal communication from a human that a manikin cannot give, and the students experience a patient-centered approach to care.

“That will provide better care at the bedside,” Kroboth said. “It will provide them more compassion toward the patient because they will have experienced that.”

SIM Wars participants receive a short briefing before their time on stage but have no prior knowledge of the medical emergency that awaits. They need to be prepared for anything.

“Every team we’ve had in the past has had a blast,” Kroboth said. “Some are a little more competitive than others, but all have a good time. It is a type-A community.”

A crew of experienced clinicians grades teams on their performance. The evaluation is part technical skills assessment and part human factors assessment.

“One of our main goals is education,” Sampson said. “This is not purely a game. It’s teaching through gaming.”

Whether on stage competing or observing from the back row of the audience, there are lessons to take away.

“From an audience member standpoint, you’re watching a high-stakes case and how the team approaches this scenario,” Sampson said. “Audience members are sitting there working the case through — how they would have done it if they were up on the stage.”

Kroboth offers these words of wisdom for SIM Wars competitors: “Communication is key, it’s a team sport and don’t forget to treat the patient.”