What Are We? Defining who a Simulation Specialist is and Tackling the Controversies

"Blog post by volunteer: Arielle Glenn

Often times, job seekers stay away from industries they are truly interested in because the monetary values of the positions in that field are scarcely lucrative – which is sad because we should be doing what we love! This is true for most of us in the Simulation Specialist (SS) role. I’m calling it the SS as it is a great way to encompass exactly what we do – we specialize in all things simulation. However, therein lays Controversy #1: Many of us prefer to be called “Technicians”, “Coordinators”, “IT Specialists”, and an array of other titles because it separates our specialties. Why you ask? Being that our jobs are a part of more than 50% of our lives, belonging to the title is what we do – and how we identify with that belonging is important. The title of a position can also dictate the monetary value of the job. When you hear the words “Manager” or “Coordinator” you infer that this title means more money than the words “Specialist” or “Technician” and this is true for most simulation centers; however, the experience required and the detail of the work to be performed is often times unmatched to the title. Therefore, you end up with a working situation where the staff member in the Coordinator position is making more money than the Technician who is doing more of the work to make simulation happen – and happen well. This difference can cause conflict in the work place as lower level staff (SS, Technicians etc.) can feel undervalued and overworked. To see it from the other side we have to first identify what it is we do in order to determine whether the previous statement is really true.

Simulation Specialists should truly be able to “do it all”. If they are encompassing every aspect of simulation into their role and they are making less than $30.00 per hour, I believe this to be an unmatched salary to work load equivalency. Some of you SS’s might be fist pumping into the air exclaiming, “YEAH!” and the Coordinators are rolling their eyes – but hold. The SS shouldn’t just come in, clock in, run simulation and clock out – it’s much more in depth than that. So if this is all you do in your role and are expecting a high salary, chickity-check yourself (Controversy #2).
The roles of the “do it all” SS are as follows:
  • IT Knowledge
  • Electronic Knowledge
  • Clinical Knowledge
  • Moulage Skills
  • AV experience
  • Clerical skills (customer service, answering phones, basic computer skills etc.)
  • Clinical Equipment knowledge (defibrillators, crash carts, ventilators)
  • Inventory Management

Notice the operant word in these descriptions is “Knowledge”. I don’t believe you need a Bachelor Degree in IT or an RN degree in order to be a SS. You do need to have knowledge of these specialties but you don’t need to be certified in them (Controversy #3). Most of these specialties can be learned in on the job training and even by watching tutorials on YouTube (if you’ve been following my blogs you’ll remember when I said you can learn ANYTHING on YouTube). A position I held at one point called for a degree or equivalent experience in IT yet the actual work load primarily focused on integrating simulation equipment into a new center – like setting it up, connecting the wires, cables, tubes and making it all work which in fact was more electronic knowledge than IT. When I was offered the position, I was offered the low end of the monetary spectrum and I was shocked! I was told that I didn’t have enough IT experience so I was being offered a lower salary. I had to prove that my time installing, repairing and maintaining Laerdal manikins was far more valuable than any IT degree. This is a perfect example of how the governing sources who determine the value of simulation positions don’t have a clue about what we do or how it’s done (Controversy #4). To solve this issue – we can always invite HR staff to visit our centers and see what we do. Even if one member of the HR hiring process comes and sees a simulation center in full function, that’s one mind that can influence a sea of misguided opinions.

It’s imperative that we understand one another and work together to find common ground (Controvery #5). In lead roles, we often times assume we are above one another because of experience, pay-grade and title. In lower-level roles we lose confidence that we will ever grow and be appreciated for what we do. Experience comes in many shapes and sizes and just because a coordinator has ten years of experience as an RN and a staff member has two years of experience as a help desk coordinator doesn’t mean one position is more valuable than the other. They both serve as a vital role within the center. Take a look at the following job descriptions. What I implore you to do is bust out the highlighter and go through the job descriptions, highlighting all of the similarities in each one. You’ll notice that the titles can be vastly different yet the experience and duties can be very similar. Then answer this: How do we bridge these positions so that each member of staff understands and appreciates one and are valued appropriately for what they do?

Job description # 1
Job description # 2
Job description # 3
Job description # 4
Job description # 5
Job description # 6

The following suggestions outline what I believe to be the stepping stones we all need to take in unifying Simulation Center careers:
  • Creating one solid title for management and one solid title for staff. A manager should be the Simulation Center Manager and the staff should be Simulation Center Operation Specialists – that’s it! Any other roles can be clearly defined by their own specialty. If a research role is needed, then the person to fill that role is a Research Specialist. If an emphasis on IT is needed than the center works closely to get their IT department on board with the center and or promotes and supports their staff to seek higher educational means.
  • Elevating the monetary value of staff positions by demanding HR departments compare the position offered to those related at other facilities whose learning/research/development outcomes match those desired of said facility. These positions require a good level of experience and that time and effort should be valued accordingly. When I see Simulation Technician positions online for $15.00 per hour it just saddens me as the person filling that position is required to have a Bachelors, five years of simulation experience, IT experience and a preferred specialty of some kind – are we seriously valuing these people at $15.00 per hour? 
  • Team building is a MUST. There are so many resources out in the world that emphasis team building and even give you all the materials you need to be successful in this arena. TeamSTEPPS, for example, is a great resource for healthcare oriented facilities. Set aside budget for team lunches, retreats, and team building exercises. Luckily, most Simulation Centers have small staff numbers so this should be easy right?
  • Attend conferences. There’s something about traveling together that unites people. Attending conferences and workshops is a great way to further knowledge, get free training, collaborate with other centers, and learn new skills. This also helps bridge the gap between management and staff by uniting them with other likeminded people to learn about how working centers and making these steps happen.
  • Take time to gather resources to make the above happen. Most simulation centers are not privately funded so they have to rely on public funding to make it all happen. Learn about grant writing and how to get buy in from other departments within the facility. There is no reason we have to continue to sit behind the claim that there is no money when the money is out there.

I am no expert on these matters, but I have worked in two very different simulation centers and I have visited hundreds across the nation. I’ve heard many complaints and I’ve also heard many solutions. My only hope is that this information serves as a building block to which we can all place in front of ourselves and take a step up toward understanding the various roles in simulation."