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31.05.2016 | Original Article | Ausgabe 3/2016 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 3/2016

Learning to manage complexity through simulation: students’ challenges and possible strategies

Perspectives on Medical Education > Ausgabe 3/2016
Gerard J. Gormley, Tara Fenwick
Wichtige Hinweise
Editor’s Note: commentary by: S. Cristancho, DOI: 10.1007/s40037-016-0277-1


Many have called for medical students to learn how to manage complexity in healthcare. This study examines the nuances of students’ challenges in coping with a complex simulation learning activity, using concepts from complexity theory, and suggests strategies to help them better understand and manage complexity.
Wearing video glasses, participants took part in a simulation ward-based exercise that incorporated characteristics of complexity. Video footage was used to elicit interviews, which were transcribed. Using complexity theory as a theoretical lens, an iterative approach was taken to identify the challenges that participants faced and possible coping strategies using both interview transcripts and video footage.
Students’ challenges in coping with clinical complexity included being: a) unprepared for ‘diving in’, b) caught in an escalating system, c) captured by the patient, and d) unable to assert boundaries of acceptable practice.
Many characteristics of complexity can be recreated in a ward-based simulation learning activity, affording learners an embodied and immersive experience of these complexity challenges. Possible strategies for managing complexity themes include: a) taking time to size up the system, b) attuning to what emerges, c) reducing complexity, d) boundary practices, and e) working with uncertainty. This study signals pedagogical opportunities for recognizing and dealing with complexity.
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