• Liz Essary

SimLab Healthcare practicum moves online!

Updated: Oct 12




SimLab Healthcare is an interprofessional practicum that brings together medical professionals and working interpreters for simulated interpreted encounters. Back in April 2019, we started outlining our plan to run our SimLab course in July 2020 in the simulation laboratory at the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine. But as the pandemic unfolded this year, it was clear that we needed to either cancel or come up with a new plan. Sound familiar?


Cancelling would have meant a lot of people (including us!) would miss out on a great learning opportunity, so we pulled out our experience as online learners, educators, and interpreters, and moved SimLab Healthcare online.


How did we pick up all the moving pieces of an interprofessional practicum and reassemble them online? Read on!

Twenty interpreters, 170 medical students, 15 languages, and two days. Working closely with the medical school was key here. Not only did we partner on the logistical side, it was important that both sides were open to doing something new. But it's not enough to be willing to take risks as educators and trainers. We worked together to craft a safe learning environment, and make sure the medical students and the interpreters were set up for success going into the activity, which brings us to the pre-work.

We added pre-work to the online activity to make sure everyone was ready. For the onsite version of SimLab, participants do pre-work to make sure they come ready to play their respective parts of interpreter, patient, or doctor. And then, well, they just show up in the physical space. But for the online space, we needed an extra layer of pre-work to make sure all participants were set up with proper connections and audio quality. We worked on the assumption that everyone needed help getting set up. The Seven Sisters team did a lot of heavy lifting upfront to make sure everyone's physical and digital workspaces were set up in advance, so that during the activity, we could focus on the simulated encounters.


The online setting was rich with authentic opportunities for problem solving and trouble shooting. Some of the challenges of SimLab are planned. The medical providers and patients come ready to throw curve balls at each other and the interpreter (being rude, beginning to speak before the interpreter finishes interpreting, and taking a call in the middle of the encounter are classics) but the technology provided some authentic hurdles for us to overcome. We all got a chance to hear and navigate wildly varying levels of audio quality, we discovered first-hand the limitations of Zoom on a phone or tablet compared to a laptop or desktop, we all worked in groups with different levels of internet connectivity. And maybe most importantly, we lived the experience of how important it is to breathe and be patient when trouble shooting tech issues (can you hear me now?) in the middle of a live online activity.


Online activities aren't just onsite activities that happen in a videoconference call. In online workshops, there's a void left where chatting over lunch and coffee used to be. The trust-building you need to really dig into a learning experience that may be uncomfortable happens outside of the simulated encounters. We used the Slack messaging platform so the interpreters could get to know each other before we met for our online event. Slack was also a space where interpreters could debrief after each day. The medical students' pre-work included a welcome video and letter so they could start to get to know the Seven Sisters team. We also made some adjustments to the schedule we'd used in the past for SimLab onsite, and stretched out the breaks between the simulations.


Logistics and observing the simulations was made easier online! In the onsite exercise, the coordinators need to move quietly among the physical spaces where the simulations take place, and it's tough to make the rounds and observe everyone without interfering. But in Zoom, we were able to immediately slip from one breakout room to another, and while the groups debriefed after the interpreted encounters, it was easy for the coordinators to observe and enter comments in the chat without being disruptive.



So how did it go for the participants? In our post-event survey, nearly all the medical students indicated that we'd met the goal of learning how to work effectively with interpreters online, and that they'd be able to use what they'd learned. And in our final debrief with the interpreters, they said it all when they asked, "When are we doing it again?!"


Want to hire the Seven Sisters team and host a SimLab for your students? We'd love to hear from you!


Interpreters can learn more about our upcoming intensive course, Lab7: First Steps in Simultaneous Interpreting for Community Settings, here.


You can read more about past SimLab events here and here.


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