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Simulation training, education and research expertise earns three VHA leaders top honors

By Gerald Sonnenberg
EES Marketing and Communication

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three VHA leaders in simulation training were selected to be recognized for their expertise in leadership and mentoring in the field of clinical simulation training to earn the 2017 VA Under Secretary for Health’s Awards for Excellence in Clinical Simulation Training, Education and Research. This award program recognizes clinical and executive leaders in VHA’s clinical simulation who have supported and advanced VHA’s strategic plan for simulation. The annual awards were established as a means of promoting and advancing system-wide progress of VHA goals, objectives and strategies for the deployment of clinical simulation to improve the quality of health care Veterans receive. 

The following are the selectees and their categories: 

  • Chan W. Park, M.D., FAAEM, director of simulation education and co-director of the Interprofessional Advanced Fellowship in Clinical Simulation at the Durham VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Durham, North Carolina, is the recipient of the Excellence in Clinical Simulation Training, Education and Research Practice Award.
  • Mary Ellen Elias, MSN, RN-BC, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System simulation coordinator, and co-director of the Interprofessional Advanced Fellowship in Clinical Simulation, is the recipient of the Excellence in Clinical Simulation Training, Education and Research Champion Award.
  • Wilma Ayala, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), MS, RN, Nurse educator-BC, Resuscitation Education Initiative (REdI) program director at the VA North Texas Health Care System in Dallas was selected as the recipient of the Excellence in Clinical Simulation Training, Education and Research Champion Award for REdI.

Dr. Park’s commitment to the Durham VA Health Care System simulation program resulted in the development of 40 distinct facility-based simulation training programs reaching more than 3,200 learners. As a Veteran himself, Dr. Park actively promotes, supports and implements simulation training resulting in a significant impact to patient safety at the Durham VAMC. Under his leadership, over 500 cardiac and stroke code team members have been trained resulting in a significant improvement in survival to discharge rates.

Serving as the co-director of the Interprofessional Advanced Fellowship in Clinical Simulation, Dr. Park mentors Fellows and learners from diverse backgrounds. He has been published in multiple interprofessional education and simulation publications, as well as presented at regional, national and international events.

Ms. Elias has been instrumental in the adoption of simulation as an accepted educational practice integrated with clinical quality and safety improvement efforts at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS). Through her leadership more than 1,900 employees, from all service lines, have participated in simulation activities; excluding Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) in fiscal year 2017, which accounted for 4,074 hours of simulation-based training.

Her expertise in the use of standardized patients resulted in the implementation of behavioral health simulation training, including assessment and management of behavioral health emergencies, training in PTSD, suicide prevention, combat stress and trauma informed care. She co-led a series of mock stroke codes resulting in a 58 percent reduction in the time required for emergency department staff to initiate stroke protocols. Ms. Elias was instrumental in planning the annual VAPHS simulation faculty development symposium, presented podium and workshop sessions at national conferences, and served as a peer reviewer for Clinical Simulation in Nursing, the official journal of the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning (INACSL).

Dr. Ayala implemented electronic completion of didactic and skill testing using voice-activated mannequins for BLS and ACLS training. Utilizing this technological training offered learners access to training 24-hours-a-day. Within the first year of implementation, 1,384 staff completed the training, providing lifesaving knowledge and skills to care of Veterans in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Dr. Ayala developed and implemented monthly in situ interprofessional Mock Code training throughout the VA North Texas Health Care System; to date more than 590 staff members have participated in over 76 simulations resulting in the ability of staff to quickly recognize and intervene in cardiac arrests resulting in successful resuscitation of Veteran patients and a staff family member who arrested at home. Dr. Ayala also presented multiple podium and poster presentations on medical emergency response and the change theory approach to improved compliance with BLS and ACLS training.

For more information about the awards, please go to the awards page at

To learn more about simulation training, click here.
To learn more about SimLEARN, click here.

(Above) Dr. Chan Park (right) receives his Practice Award from Paul Crews, director of the Durham VA Health Care System. (VA courtesy photo)

(Above, left to right) Dr. Stephen Holt, director of the VA North Texas Health Care System, presents the REdI award to Dr. Wilma Ayala. Jeff Milligan, VISN 17 network director, and Dr. Cynthia Foslien-Nash, with the VA North Texas Health Care System, were also present. (VA courtesy photo)

(Below, left to right) Mary Ellen Elias receives her award from Karin McGraw, director of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. (VA courtesy photo)