Barrows Presenter Jan-Joost Rethans Bridges the Question: Are We Ready To Embrace Sameness?

By Kris Slawinski

Jan joost_2013 0716At the recent ASPE conference Plenary Session, Howard S. Barrows Invited Presenter Jan-Joost Rethans, MD, of the Master Phase SKillslab programme at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, posed the question, “Do ASPE Members Want to Go International?”

Quite possibly the earliest SP educator in Europe, Dr. Rethans visited Howard Barrows at McMaster in 1976 to learn more about his innovative educational methodology, and as a result, currently has two SPs who have been working with him since 1978. As he put it they are “possibly the most experienced SPs in the world—and they’re not American!”—his point being that SPs are not just an American phenomenon, and that there is not “only one” way to use SPs.

While he revealed some of the differences between SP use in Europe and Asia and that in North America, Dr. Rethans also underscored that there was more “sameness” between us, and that we could learn a lot from how SPs are used overseas. Indeed, Dr. Rethans pointed out that “SP methodology addresses cultural, educational, and technical contexts of international uses.” Another European, Ralf Krage of SESAM, spoke briefly to us at lunch one day with the same message: “Tunnel vision within societies is wrong,” and advised more collaboration between countries and hemispheres.

What may have seemed like a moot concern for our professional association has now reached critical mass, through the push and growth of simulation at all levels, in more fields, and throughout the world. Where ASPE once struggled to form and shape as a fledgling professional association, we now find that we have to look outward, to find terminology that better defines the scope and breadth of our educational methodology, that is inclusive of those outside the field of healthcare education who employ the SP educational methodology, and that has useful meaning in languages other than English. Additionally, some of us feel the pressure of having to justify our claim as specialists in simulation that does not utilize fancy hardware, and defend communication as something more than a “soft skill.”

Will inclusiveness erode our identity, or will it strengthen our meaning and our message? I think we already agree that the use of simulation in education is not a “one size fits all” proposition, so perhaps the troll under this bridge is resources and not lack of will. International travel is costly, and though many of us face constant budget justification and cuts, some do attend AMEE and other European and Asian simulation conferences. ASPE’s international membership continues to grow annually, and our president has been reaching out and presenting at European venues, with her institution’s support.

Some time back I produced and hosted a motorcycle talk radio program which drew criticism at times for focusing on travel outside of the US. My response was always, If we keep our noses in our own back yard, we’ll never get outside of the ‘hood’! I suspect that with more ASPE members presenting in Europe and Asia, and more SP educators jumping on board from that side of the planet, bridges will be forged and relationships developed. But it starts with the presentation of the idea. One colleague said, “Jan-Joost’s challenge to examine that insular American approach was refreshing for me. I felt encouraged to explore what was being done internationally in hopes of bringing it back to balance some of our work here.”

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