Simulation in surgical training: educational issues and practical implications

Med Educ. 2003 Mar;37(3):267-77. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2923.2003.01440.x.


Background: Surgical skills are required by a wide range of health care professionals. Tasks range from simple wound closure to highly complex diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Technical expertise, although essential, is only one component of a complex picture. By emphasising the importance of knowledge and attitudes, this article aims to locate the acquisition of surgical skills within a wider educational framework.

Simulators: Simulators can provide safe, realistic learning environments for repeated practice, underpinned by feedback and objective metrics of performance. Using a simple classification of simulators into model-based, computer-based or hybrid, this paper summarises the current state of the art and describes recent technological developments. Advances in computing have led to the establishment of precision placement and simple manipulation simulators within health care education, while complex manipulation and integrated procedure simulators are still in the development phase.

Evaluation: Tension often exists between the design and evaluation of surgical simulations. A lack of high quality published data is compounded by the difficulties of conducting longitudinal studies in such a fast-moving field. The implications of this tension are discussed.

The wider context: The emphasis is now shifting from the technology of simulation towards partnership with education and clinical practice. This highlights the need for an integrated learning framework, where knowledge can be acquired alongside technical skills and not in isolation from them. Recent work on situated learning underlines the potential for simulation to feed into and enrich everyday clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Patient Simulation
  • Surgery, Computer-Assisted / education*
  • Surgery, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / education*