Introduction: Simulated learning environments (SLEs) are used worldwide in health professional education, including physiotherapy, to train certain attributes and skills. To date, no randomized controlled trial (RCT) has evaluated whether education in SLEs can partly replace time in the clinical environment for physiotherapy cardiorespiratory practice.
Methods: Two independent single-blind multi-institutional RCTs were conducted in parallel using a noninferiority design. Participants were volunteer physiotherapy students (RCT 1, n = 176; RCT 2, n = 173) entering acute care cardiorespiratory physiotherapy clinical placements. Two SLE models were investigated as follows: RCT 1, 1 week in SLE before 3 weeks of clinical immersion; RCT 2, 2 weeks of interspersed SLE/clinical immersion (equivalent to 1 SLE week) within the 4-week clinical placement. Students in each RCT were stratified on academic grade and randomly allocated to an SLE plus clinical immersion or clinical immersion control group. The primary outcome was competency to practice measured in 2 clinical examinations using the Assessment of Physiotherapy Practice. Secondary outcomes were student perception of experience and clinical educator and patient rating of student performance.
Results: There were no significant differences in student competency between the SLE and control groups in either RCT, although students in the interspersed group (RCT 2) achieved a higher score in 5 of 7 Assessment of Physiotherapy Practice standards (all P < 0.05). Students rated the SLE experience positively. Clinical educators and patients reported comparability between groups.
Conclusions: An SLE can replace clinical time in cardiorespiratory physiotherapy practice. Part education in the SLE satisfied clinical competency requirements, and all stakeholders were satisfied.