Abstract: Simulation-Based Research and Social Work: A Scoping Review (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Simulation-Based Research and Social Work: A Scoping Review

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Tarshis, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Ruxi Gheorghe, MSW, PhD Student, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Stephanie Borgen, MSW, MSW Student, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Karen Sewell, PhD, Assistant Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Heather MacDonald, Information Specialist/Librarian, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Kenta Asakura, PhD, Associate Professor, Smith College, Northampton, MA
Background: Simulation is frequently utilized to train social work students and practitioners for direct social work practice (Kourgiantakis et al., 2019). Participants typically engage with a simulated client, who is a professional actor trained to portray a realistic client scenario. Although simulation has been primarily used for teaching, learning and student assessment (Bogo et al., 2014, 2011; Rawlings, 2012), simulation-based research (SBR) is often used as an investigative methodology to study practice competencies in medicine and other healthcare fields (Cheng et al, 2014). We conducted a scoping review to explore when and how this novel research methodology is used in examining social work practice competencies.

Methods: We followed Arksey & O’Malley’s (2005) five stages for conducting a scoping review to search six relevant databases: ASSIA, CINAHL, ERIC, Social Services Abstracts, Social Work Abstracts, and PsycINFO. Inclusion criteria included studies that 1) were published in peer-reviewed journals, 2) were written in English, 3) used simulation-based data, 4) examined social work practice competencies, and 5) included social work practitioners, students, or supervisors in the sample. We also followed Tricco et al.’s (2018) PRISMA reporting guidelines to decrease bias, increase screening consistency, and enhance overall study rigor. The papers were extracted by two independent reviewers and were closely examined to identify common themes and gaps in the literature.

Results: The initial search resulted in 4224 articles. Following deduplication and title and abstract screening, 275 full text articles remained. Using Covidence, three members independently screened the full articles. A total of 24 articles met the inclusion criteria. We developed a data extraction form to chart categories including, among others, year of publication, study location, targeted competencies, type of simulation-based data used (e.g., live actor, virtual reality), benefits, and limitations. We then conducted a qualitative content analysis of the data.

The majority of articles were published in the last 10 years in Canada and the U.S., signifying that this is a burgeoning area of research on social work practice. Areas of practice competencies included professional decision-making (33%), the role of cognition and emotional reactions (21%), attending to culture and diversity (21%), and others, such as supervision skills (8%). Using qualitative (46%), quantitative (42%), and mixed methods (13%) in research design, more than half of the selected articles used live actors (54%) to simulate realistic practice situations. Several limitations to SBR noted in selected studies include the constraints of short, single session methodology and the lack of socio-cultural diversity among actors. Key benefits of employing SBR also emerged such as opportunities for direct observation of practice, standardization of practice situations, and mitigating research ethics related concerns.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that simulation is an innovative methodology for researching social work practice competencies, including knowledge, values, and skills. This promising methodology can provide relevant insight into dynamic and immersive practice situations supporting social work practitioners and students. By illuminating the benefits and limitations of SBR, this presentation offers suggestions on implementing SBR in clinical social work contexts and strengthening collaborations between clinicians and researchers in advancing practice-informed research.