The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the pedagogical approach to education at every level of training, including at the undergraduate level and graduate or professional level. These unprecedented times have tested academic resilience, agility, creativity, and adaptability in all aspects, including inventive alternative teaching methods. With an increasing reliance on virtual instruction, self-directed learning, and hybrid models of instruction, certain approaches of hands-on training, practice-based learning, and evaluation have had to evolve.

The University of Minnesota’s Master of Medical Device Innovation students are typically immersed in clinical environments through physician shadowing in the operating room, evaluating unmet needs and untapped areas of potential innovation. Engineers who can immerse themselves in surgical education, shadowing, and frontline medical experience can better appreciate, recognize, and enhance current medical technologies and processes. With the OR case restrictions in the era of COVID-19, these learners were faced with limited clinical exposure and thus limited familiarity with the dynamics and processes of clinical practice. As such not only education, but the functioning of the entire industry is stunted. From an instructive perspective, this creates a challenge for students attempting to generate relevant and feasible practicum ideas, accurate prototypes, and offers fewer opportunities to develop these ideas alongside the experts and medical professionals - the target audience.

Simulation education provides a means for students to engage with clinical practice in a meaningful way that bridges the gap between clinical exposure and virtual learning. A hands-on approach in which students were able to practice fundamental surgical skills of suturing, knot-tying, and the basics of laparoscopy.

Learners were offered three didactic workshop sessions that introduced these skills and then were given opportunities to perform with supervision from expert educators. Low-cost, low-fidelity models of pertinent anatomy and physiology provided students an immersive experience that allowed them to develop a deeper understanding of interventional skills. Three two hour-long sessions of guided skills practice on low-cost simulators were attended by the 2022 Masters of Medical Device Innovation cohort and subjective measures of their understanding of the fundamental concepts were evaluated.

High-level findings of these workshops suggest that simulation education is an effective tool in advancing the baseline understanding of surgical principles as opposed to virtual instruction and may offer some further benefit, not possible even through clinical shadowing itself.

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