Strategic Planning. Part 2 of the 7-Part Series Dissecting the Sim Ops Standard

By: Tonya Schneidereith and Fara Bowler

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how to determine if your program is ready for simulation. Now, in Part 2, we highlight the role of strategic planning.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, strategic planning is “a process in which a company’s executives decide what they want to achieve and the best actions and use of resources for doing this.” In other words, a strategic plan is the roadmap to get you to your goals. For simulation organizations, identifying the components that comprise a successful program is one of the first steps in strategic planning. It is also Criterion 1 of the INACSL Standard of Best Practice: SimulationSM: Operations: “Implement a strategic plan that coordinates and aligns resources of the SBE program to achieve its goals” (INACSL Standards Committee, 2017, p. 682).

In order to develop a strategic plan for your simulation program, you first need to analyze the mission and vision statements of the parent organization. How does the parent organization define itself? What does it stand for? Where does it want to go? Once you have that information, begin to think about your sim program. What can you plan that supports the larger organization? For example, how does simulation contribute to the educational goals of your university? Create both short- and long-term goals.

The organizational chart can often be used to identify the key leaders of the parent organization. Where are simulation leadership, operations, and educators in this chart? Who oversees simulation operations and to whom does this person report? Do those on the uppermost row value simulation? If not, what can you do to help them get there? Can you invite the organizational leaders to view or, better yet, participate in a simulation? Can you design a scenario that will have the greatest impact on these leaders? One question to ask that may help you arrive at the perfect topic is, “What keeps you up at night?” If the answer is low NCLEX pass rates on reduction of risk potential, design a scenario that educates students on risk-reduction behaviors.

Another important consideration is the involvement of key stakeholders. Often those who hold the money are those with the most power. As with the plan for organizational leaders, consider inviting the stakeholders to participate in a simulation and ask them the same question. If hospital-acquired infections keep them up at night, design a scenario that educates staff on risk-reduction behaviors. You may even be able to adapt the leadership scenario for the stakeholders since both are focused on risk-reduction behaviors.

To keep simulation personnel up-to-date, incorporate ongoing professional development into the strategic plan. This will not only help keep personnel current, but will provide opportunities for networking, professional growth, and getting the name of the parent institution out to the community. This can enhance recruitment and/or retention, depending on where you are.

Now we arrive at the financial component of strategic planning, which is necessary to ensure availability of the equipment needed to meet the short- and long-term goals of the simulation program. Initially, areas requiring capital spending should be identified with the following provisions:

  • Implement a systematic plan for evaluation
  • Articulate return on investment
  • Identify areas requiring capital spending
  • Plan to replace assets
  • Report progress to key stakeholders

High-fidelity manikins and their warranties make up the majority of the capital equipment for simulation. At the time of purchase, it is important to develop a replacement plan with the understanding that each vendor has an estimated lifetime for a manikin. That lifetime, in years, is divided into three categories: 1) the “green” category, or the honeymoon stage for a new piece of equipment, 2) the “yellow” category, the time prior to replacement, and 3) the “red” zone, which indicates time for replacement. If each manikin is categorized based on replacement need then it is easier to strategically plan the financial burden of new purchases. This method also allows the organization to plan on asset replacement in a more strategic way.

An example of this is below. A new high-fidelity manikin for OB simulations costing $60,000 was recently purchased. Per the vendor, this manikin will reach full life in approximately eight years.


In this example, funds are allocated into savings each year in the green and yellow categories planning for replacement annually. The organization is aware that this manikin will likely require replacement in the year 2026 and the funds would, at the point of the red category, be available based on the saved amounts. When this method is utilized for each manikin in a program, an annual projection for savings and replacement can be reported to the organizational leaders. Note, however, that this is a basic example that has not taken into account cost inflation for the capital purchase. Some research would need to be done to anticipate the increased cost of the product in eight years and account for this increase in the projected budget.

Development of a strategic plan is integral for a simulation program’s success. Consequences of not engaging in strategic planning can lead to an inability to realize the goals of the simulation program. In addition, sustainability may be at risk if financial planning does not account for short- and long-term goals.

So, how did you develop your strategic plan? What advice do you have for those beginning to develop their own strategic plan?

INACSL Standards Committee. (2017). INACSL Standards of Best Practice: SimulationSM: Operations. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 13, 681-687.

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