Nursing students get hands-on practice with new technology

Bobby — or Bobbie, depending on how the animatronic mannequin is dressed — is the newest member of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s nursing department.

The patient simulator, a SimMan 3G created by medical supply company Laerdal, can talk, cough, sweat, cry, bleed, exhibit illnesses, react to medication and die, just like a flesh-and-bone patient.

It is the latest technology aimed to give nursing students a dose of what they could face in real life.

Nursing programs throughout the region are embracing this kind of technology, expanding beyond the typical “teaching-testing” platform and immersing their students in real-life simulations to meet the needs of the rapidly advancing health care industry.

“As our population gets older, we are living longer, the diseases are becoming more complicated, and technology is advancing, we, as health care providers, have to keep up,” said Dr. Afua Arhin, head of the Fayetteville State University Department of Nursing.

The Institute of Medicine released a report recently that recommended an increase in the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020 — a suggestion that many hospitals are turning into a requirement, encouraging registered nurses with an associate’s degree to go back to school.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 nurses in North Carolina is older than 55, an average that continues to rise, according to data from the North Carolina Board of Nursing, and 24 percent of the workforce is expected to retire within 10 years.

According to the North Carolina Center for Nursing and North Carolina Area Health Education Centers, these factors have rippled into an expected shortfall of nurses in the state that will exceed 30,000 by 2020.

On Aug. 14, UNCP opened a $29 million Health Sciences Building, which houses the nursing and social work departments and biology laboratories.

The building’s second story features a 14,500-square-foot Clinical Learning Center, where nursing students will care for Bobby, other computer-enhanced mannequins, and one another in seven laboratories set up to mirror hospital rooms.

“We can really simulate an actual situation the students may face in a hospital setting,” said Dr. Barbara Synowiez, chairwoman of the Nursing Department.

Faculty members, such as Martha Hepler, director of the center, will monitor the students from control rooms, where they can talk for the mannequins and control their functions. Cameras will record the students’ actions, which can be used to correct mistakes after the lesson is complete.

About 30 juniors began classes in the simulation clinics this week.