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Looking ahead to the future when Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) medical and healthcare students will be taking up employment, our university has and always will treat patient safety as a priority. According to a Eurobarometer poll, for the population of Latvia, well-trained medical staff are a fundamental precondition for high-quality healthcare. The patient should be attended to by a well-prepared young specialist who has successfully completed the theoretical subjects and all stages of practical training. A gap in one's knowledge may be an unsatisfactory mark in an assessment, however, in the future, it might jeopardise a patient's health. Medical practitioners and other healthcare personnel should improve their knowledge, skills and competences in a simulation-based, safe environment throughout their professional lives.   

We consider virtual reality and other simulators, mannequins and training devices of particular importance in the training of young specialists, for the patients to be attended to by specialists who are not only well-trained academically but also in a practical sense. To pursue this aim, several years ago we established the RSU Medical Education Technology Centre where students practise, e.g. surgical manipulations, diverse examination scenarios and first aid.

The capacity of the centre equally suits the training needs of experienced medical practitioners willing to practise daily manipulations or develop complex clinical skills.

The use of the modern, almost human-like modelling solutions for mastering the medical team algorithm is of equal importance. In this area RSU has good cooperation partners at the University of Washington and Yale University, who participate in the implementation of our study programmes. This is the trend in contemporary medicine – where a medical practitioner not only enhances his theoretical knowledge but also constantly works on expanding and reiterating his practical skills.

At present there are 8.7 thousand students at RSU, however our goal is to reach a total of 10 thousand students. We are relentless in ensuring high quality standards in all stages of study. To streamline the practical training possibilities that we offer, we have opened branch offices of the Medical Education Technology Centre at three university hospitals – Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital, Riga East Clinical University Hospital and the Children’s Clinical University Hospital, likewise at the hospitals in several regional centres of Latvia – e.g. Daugavpils, Liepāja and Ventspils. The recently-opened clinical study centres serve the purpose of a place where young specialists may practise on medical simulators, mannequins, training models, 3D devices and attend lectures at the hospitals. Similar RSU study centres are also being set up abroad in hospitals in Germany, Italy and in the Scandinavian countries.

Clinical training centres approximate the academic environment to the daily life of a medical practitioner. They are vital not only for students but also for experienced healthcare specialists. For example it is frequent practice in Western Europe and the USA that the ground floor of a newly-built hospital commonly serves the purpose of a simulation centre where a surgeon may refresh his skills after vacation and only then treat patients.  

It is important to provide our students with the possibility to undergo placement not only at the leading hospitals in Latvia, but also abroad. It provides the student with an international perspective, experience and knowledge. Some may say that it is a step towards losing the young specialist as, for example, Germany alone is short of some 6500 medical practitioners and a similar problem is faced in all of Europe. I would like to note that we cannot make anyone stay in a certain place by imposing administrative hurdles in the modern world with an open market. Other methods should be utilised instead, e.g. support measures in the form of employer or local-government financed medical residency and other forms of support. The municipalities in charge of regional hospitals may offer agreements to young specialists where the municipality undertakes to cover the tuition fee and provide the new specialist with accommodation, whereas the young specialist, in turn, commits to working in the regional hospital for a set period of time. If the young specialist originates from the respective city, it would be a mutually beneficial solution.

It must be recognised that in recent years, the situation has improved and there are a number of positive examples of effective recruitment of young specialists to the vacancies in municipal hospitals. Equal measures should be targeted also at ensuring the training of regional practitioners in a simulation-based environment.  

An employer would be the most objective and accurate in their assessment of potential staff, requiring professional staff who are able to take on their professional duties from the first day of employment and not someone requiring lengthy training and practise. Because of the close cooperation with prospective employers, RSU graduates are well prepared. Employers’ representatives participate in the development of RSU study programmes, take part in the final examinations where the knowledge of students is tested, are members of faculty councils and the Convent of Councillors. Prospective employers frequently start up cooperation with students – their potential employees while still in the study phase. RSU, together with employers, are constantly tracking changes in the labour market so that students are provided with an education that best matches the requirements of the employers. It is vital for every employer to facilitate constant development of its employees and in the area of healthcare it can be achieved at RSU clinical study centres located in the hospitals of Latvia and abroad.

The quality of the education and training of healthcare specialists is at the forefront of patient safety; however, the acquisition of the diploma does not signal the end of one's education. The profession of a medical practitioner is a regulated profession and requires constant updating. The use of simulation centres in the lifelong learning of students and experienced medical practitioners is not only a trend in modern medicine, it is also consistent with the requirements of EU regulations on patient safety and in the overall national interest for ensuring public health.