Cathy Smith, 2013 ASPE Outstanding Educator of the Year

By Anna Lank

Cathy Smith is our 2013 ASPE Educator of the Year.  I had the pleasure of interviewing her this summer in order to share more about her with the ASPE community. The first thing Cathy said was that this award means a great deal to her as it came from her community of practice. Additionally she is honored to be in the company of those who were previously recognized by this award.  Here is a little more information about our latest distinguished honoree.

Cathy was born and raised in London, Ontario, Canada.  She received her undergraduate degree in English and Drama from Western University there and went on to earn her MA and PhD in Drama at the University of Toronto (UT). Cathy Smith_2013 0220

While earning her PhD, Cathy was also working as a professional actor.  A friend introduced her to the SP program at UT.  Because of her strong academic background, the faculty at the clinical skills center at UT recognized her great potential in terms of teaching and developing curriculum.  During this time, Cathy worked with UT on many projects as an educational consultant.  She credits Anja Robb, Nancy McNaughton, and Diana Tabak as mentors, in addition to Dr. David Tannenbaum, Physician-in-Chief of Family Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto  and Dr. Lynn Russell, with whom she done a great deal of work related to internationally trained health professionals.  She has also learned immensely from all the SPs and learners she has worked with over the years

Cathy likes to say that she and SP methodology “grew up together”.  She was able to integrate her academic disciplines into the newly developing SP world, and it was a happy marriage.  Her extensive background in the humanities has continued to be an important asset in her work.

More recently, Cathy, although still based in Toronto, has moved away from working with the UT program and  consults independently on diverse educational and assessment projects in the health field, both nationally and internationally.  One course she recently co-designed and delivered was the Imaginarium for SIM-one, the Ontario Simulation Network, with Dr. Bruce Ballon, the SIM-one educational director, and with a professional screenwriter.  This was an interdisciplinary two day program involving  psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists and nurses from CAMH, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.  These learners were interested in incorporating the creative aspects of simulation, such as performance and writing, into their teachings.

Dr. Debra Nestel, another important mentor, asked Cathy to write two modules for a project she led, the Victorian Simulated Patient Network, a web-based learning program funded by Health Force Australia.  Cathy notes that it is a valuable resource for SP educators and it’s free; all you have to do is register at  to be able to access 13 modules.

Cathy recently traveled to Australia, at Dr. Nestel’s invitation, to deliver workshops for simulation educators as part of the National Healthcare Simulation and Training in Simulation (NHET-Sim) initiative, a program designed to deliver simulation education to over 3,000 health professional educators.

Dr. Nestel is also in the process of editing a book on SP methodology for which Cathy is writing two chapters: one on SPs and assessment, the other on performance theory as it informs SP methodology.  “I want to explore the relationship between creativity and simulation; and in terms of assessments, help to define competencies for SP educators”, says Cathy.  She also has an academic appointment as a Lecturer in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UT.

Cathy was at the first ASPE meeting in 2000 and is currently a member of the education and professional development, core curriculum and conference committees, chairing the later.  She urges all members to take advantage of the rich opportunities for both professional and personal growth developed through participation in ASPE committees, and is also appreciative of deep and lasting collaborations developed through this work.

Toward the end of our interview, Cathy offered this advice to newcomers in the field:  “Seek mentorship; never be afraid to ask for help.  When you start out as an SP educator, as with anything new, you don’t know what you don’t know. Over time the shift in understanding often moves to knowing what it is you don’t know.  Seek help at that point by developing a community of practice so that you aren’t working in isolation.  Also read, read, read the literature and if you aren’t sure what to read, ask around in your community.   ASPE member, Dr. Karen Szauter’s exhaustive literature search on SP related research is invaluable and available to all Finally, remember to take time to debrief from your work because if you don’t you will be in danger of burnout.” Wise words from our latest Educator of the Year!

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