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23 Demonstrating key principles of physiology using high-fidelity human patient simulation
  1. RJ Helyer
  1. University of Bristol, UK


The School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of Bristol adopted high-fidelity human patient simulation in teaching key principles of physiology that are critical in the understanding of normal body function, the basis of disease, and later safe practice, to students studying medicine and biomedical sciences.1 The simulator is used as a modelled human subject rather than a patient to be treated. Simulations enrich curricula delivered by traditional teaching methods. Circa. 30 students work in each session, but we also run plenary sessions with up to 130 students. Although a large group, sessions remain interactive as student volunteers make observations with the manikin while others note and observe physiological signs, engaging in question and answer with faculty.

There are three key aspects of our approach:

  • each simulation explores a set of related physiological principles rather than a clinical situation, eg. control of breathing (rather than respiratory disease) and response to hypovolemia (rather than haemorrhage and shock);

  • the emphasis is on recording and subsequent analysis of a range of physiological variables core to key homeostatic mechanisms (eg. plotting curves of stroke volume against cardiac output) or in response to pharmacological agents (eg. dissecting the actions of alpha- and beta-receptor agonists);

  • simulations are designed using the high-fidelity model to produce data validated using literature based on human or animal subjects, including clinical cases.2

The University of Bristol is committed to simulation as a core teaching methodology for key principles alongside both traditional and other innovative methods. It is valued by both faculty and students, and has been noted as an exemplary aspect of early years teaching by professional accrediting bodies.


  1. Harris J, Helyer R, Lloyd E. Med Educ. 2011;45:1131–1162.

  2. Helyer R, Dickens P. Adv Physiol Educ. 2016;40:143–144.

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