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Simulators give new 'life' to medical training

By Tiffany Lane, The Enquirer-Journal
Mar 07, 2009

E-J staff photo by Rick Crider

Nursing student Katie Knight looks on as Samantha Mullis, who is studying for her associate's degree in nursing, checks the breathing of "iStan,' an advanced adult simulator that exhibits the symptoms and responses of human patients. The simulator is one of three that Carolinas Medical Center-Union acquired through grant funds.
MONROE--They sweat, bleed, blink and kick, but lack one particular feature: they aren't real.

Carolinas Medical Center-Union unveiled its human patient simulators on Thursday as an addition to the nursing program at South Piedmont Community College. A $362,000 grant from the Duke Endowment helped pay for the equipment.

"With the complex patients that we have in the hospital, it will enable the students to try nursing techniques ... before they actually get in the hospital," said Joyce Long, director of the associate nursing degree program at SPCC. The computer programmed simulators ? one adult, one child and one infant ? allow lab technicians to create medical situations that nursing students might not come across on their clinical rotations.

"You're not usually encountering a lot of the acute critical care," said second-year nursing student Karin Trull, pegging cardiac arrest as one example. "And you don't want to make mistakes." She said the hands-on labs will build students' comfort level with even rare conditions.

Fellow student Katie Long called the simulators "an excellent educational resource" and said they will give students an opportunity "to freeze time ... and ask questions to the instructors."

SPCC has other training mannequins, Joyce Long said, "but nothing like this."

"They are very, very high tech," she said, adding that they even feel like real people.

The simulators not only speak in a man or woman's voice, but respond to medication either appropriately or inappropriately at the lab technician's choice. The technician can also make the simulators go into seizures or increase their heart rate. The infant simulator kicks its arms and legs.

Denise White, chief nursing officer at CMC-Union, said seeing a patient react is more effective than "just talking about it." With the new simulators, she said, instructors won't have to do as much coaching because students will see if what they're doing is working.

"It's an exciting addition not only for the college but for the hospital," SPCC President John McKay said.

White said the simulators can be used for physician training, respiratory therapists and radiology technicians to ensure that all clinicians are as prepared as possible.

The hospital finds many of its health-care professionals among SPCC graduates, she said, and it's nice to have the same students trained in the community working in the community. She called the simulators "a great win" for the county.

McKay said one of the state's greatest needs is in the nursing field. With 40 students in the nursing program this year, he said the school hopes to add 20 more next year and another 20 the year after that.

"If you look at where the jobs have been and where they are, health care of course is there, and nursing is the big one in that area."

White said CMC-Union has about 650 nurses among its 1,300 employees.

The simulators are manufactured by Medical Education Technologies Inc.

? 2009 by The Enquirer Journal. All rights reserved.