Aston Pharmacy School, part of Aston University’s College of Health and Life Sciences, is using SimConverse software to help train its students in common situations they can expect to encounter in practice.

The generative AI simulation software was introduced at the start of the 2023/2024 academic year, to help students properly prepare for their pharmacy placements. Students can use the platform to interact with a virtual character in different scenarios that mirror what they may encounter in community and hospital pharmacies, such as taking drug histories, or discussing illness.

Generative AI, such as SimConverse, can generate text and images in response to prompts from a user. So students can receive a response from the AI character to the questions they ask.

SimConverse was co-created with support from placement providers. Providers were asked what they would like students to be able to do when they arrived for placements, and this feedback was incorporated into the training. This has helped reduce the amount of time placement providers need to spend giving training, allowing students more time to contribute to the workplace and put into practice the skills they’ve learned.

Natalie Lewis, associate head of school (operations) at Aston Pharmacy School, said: “SimConverse has allowed us to ensure students get standardised training that is not possible when working at scale with many placement providers.

“We use over 100 pharmacy stores for our community pharmacy provision alone. We are fortunate to work with very engaged partners and their input has been vital to ensuring we are building training that will reduce provider-led training and enable students to engage with workplace tasks quickly. We are already seeing an improvement in students’ consultation skills and confidence.”

The software can be accessed from anywhere, allowing students to complete training modules at their convenience. It is being used as an additional tool, alongside conventional teaching and traditional simulation techniques, involving volunteers playing the role of patients. In addition, scenarios can be planned to ensure students get the opportunity to practice with virtual patients with a range of characteristics, including varying how communicative they are.

Professor Anthony Hilton, Aston University pro-vice-chancellor and dean of the College of Health and Life Sciences, said: “SimConverse embraces cutting-edge AI technology to enhance the learning experience for pharmacy students at Aston University. This innovation aligns seamlessly with the university’s strategic commitment to building a digital enterprise for ubiquitous learning and our dedication to fostering innovation in education.”

Aston Pharmacy School is far from alone in looking for innovative ways to use technology to enhance skills. Last year saw The Personalised Care Institute (PCI) launch virtual reality training on shared decision-making for healthcare professionals.