Simulation technology such as computer-controlled, wireless mannequins offer beneficial opportunities for students and continuing education for medical professionals.
With clinical sites in high demand but short supply, many medical programs are turning to simulation technology to help students earn valuable experience in often unpredictable situations.
Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste Marie, Mich., touts a 100-percent job placement ranking for its nursing students. During schooling, students are placed in area hospitals for clinical experience and are trained to work throughout the United States and Canada.
Recently, LSSU received a $400,000 donation from the R.W. Considine Foundation to purchase state-of-the-art mannequins that use simulation technology, as part of a proposed nursing simulation center in the city. The donation will be used to purchase five mannequins manufactured by Laerdal Medical of Norway. These computer-controlled, wireless mannequins, though highly expensive, are becoming invaluable to today’s nursing students.
“Students often need the opportunity to practice,” said Rob Hutchins, associate dean at LSSU’s School of Nursing. “In clinical situations it’s difficult, sometimes, to have the right experiences available. We can’t program patients to have a heart attack at any given time or gastrointestinal problems at any given time.”
(Next page: Benefits of the computer-controlled, wireless mannequins)
Current LSSU students are training on low-fidelity mannequins, commonly used for CPR practice. Because these mannequins are not computer-controlled, however, professors read out a list of symptoms that a mannequin is experiencing, and students react from there. With the purchase of the new “family” of modern mannequins, students no longer will have to use their imaginations when treating their plastic patients.
“We’re able to give our students very close, personal attention and provide them with a very personal kind of education,” said Tony McLain, LSSU president. “Along with that, we need to make sure that we have nothing but the highest technology to provide them with that education, and this Sim Lab would really demonstrate to not only our students, but to the community that we’re committed to providing our students with the very best and the very newest and training methods.”
The new Laerdal family of mannequins will include a SimMan, SimMom, SimBaby, SimJunior, and an ALS Man that is designed specifically for paramedic training. These mannequins can can cry tears, bleed from orifices, and SimMom can even deliver a baby.
“With low-fidelity [mannequins], we would have to pretend what kinds of reactions the mannequins could have,” said Jodi Orm, a professor of nursing at LSSU. “With computerized [mannequins], we could program them to react how we want them to react. If a student made an error, we could change the mannequin to react in a way that the patient would then. It would be as realistic as possible without having to endanger any human, [and] it makes a very safe environment to work in.”
Orm said that the new computer-controlled mannequins will allow students to experience a wide range of plausible situations.
“In our simulated environment we can say, on Thursday when they come into the center, they’re going to experience a patient with third-degree burns, or a patient that goes into cardiac arrest, or experience a patient who dies, and learn how to deal with the death of your mannequin,” said Orm. “We can also bring in people to act as if they’re the family members.”
These types of hybrid situations not only will benefit the nursing students, but also will present opportunities for community members to get involved. Orm is confident that LSSU will be able to locate volunteers to work in the Sim Center, portraying family members of the mannequin patients. These interactions will allow students to hone their people skills and refine their emotional sensitivity levels—invaluable skills that will serve them well in their career paths.
“The building that we’re going to be renovating into our new Sim Center is right next door to a senior apartment complex, so they would be great candidates to be volunteers,” said Orm. “We could have mass casualty drills here within the community—have our paramedic students on sight with the fire science students.”
LSSU students are not the only ones who can profit from the Sim Lab, Orm claims. “I don’t think [the Sim Center] will benefit our community,” she said, “I know it will.”
She pointed to the expansive continuing education opportunities that the Sim Center presents for existing nurses in the community, as well as medical trainees and paramedics.
“Competency training is huge,” as is consistency, she said. “If we wanted all paramedics to refine difficult airway management, we could have all first responders in the entire region potentially come through our Sim Center and become competent on an annual basis.”
High-risk, low-volume scenarios could be addressed through training sessions at the Sim Lab. Inter-professional simulation also will help students in different health-related fields collaborate and learn from one another. Though LSSU’s nursing students will benefit from the mannequin’s virtual IV insertion tool, LSSU’s paramedic students will benefit from the mannequin’s ability to deliver a baby.
“We don’t train our nursing students to deliver, but the paramedic students may be in a situation to deliver someone on the road,” said Orm.
The first roll-out of Sim Lab users is poised for September 2013, with an expected student integration date of January 2014.
“[The Sim Lab] not only enhances their learning, but they love to learn using simulation,” said Orm. “If you can make learning fun, I believe that learning happens.”