Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2012

Replicating life

Nursing students training in the labOn entering the Clinical Simulation Center, you feel as though you’ve been transported from university classrooms to hospital wing. Ten simulation labs are configured with the precise dimensions of a standard hospital room and furnished with the equipment and facilities future nurses will use. Each room hosts a patient on the bed; however, these patients, which nursing students examine and care for, are actually high-fidelity mannequins designed to mimic a myriad of bodily functions. As their assignment, junior- and senior-level nursing majors routinely assess the wellness status of their non-human patients while faculty instructors remotely assess the nursing majors’ decisions.

“The mannequins can interact in real time with the students as they make their assessments and perform their assigned duties,” said Eileen Deges Curl, chair of the JoAnne Gay Dishman Department of Nursing. “Each mock hospital room is equipped with overhead microphones and cameras, so the instructor can monitor each student action and provide feedback.”

Much like a student pilot would use a flight simulator to learn to pilot an aircraft in various scenarios controlled by the flight instructor, a faculty member in a nearby room controls the interactive mannequins. Good assessments and actions on the part of the student elicit positive responses, while bad decisions bring negative responses from the patient. Unlike training in a traditional hospital setting where students follow and observe nurses, students are the leaders in the simulation lab and have the opportunity to communicate their findings with the physician to receive and implement interventions. These scenarios are not always available in the traditional clinical setting. The mannequins can have a heart attack every day, said Curl.

Mannequins can simulate breathing with the rise and fall of the chest, as well as the sounds of the heartbeat and lung functions. Student training also includes infant and pediatric models. Pediatric simulations are very important according to simulation lab coordinator LeAnn Chisholm. Children have a whole different set of normals for heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure, so knowing those normals helps students recognize the abnormals, she said.

Possibly the most intriguing aspect of the simulation center is the birthing room, featuring a mannequin that imitates the full birthing process, complete with a newborn baby. Newborn simulations include various types of abnormal infant breathing to the extent that extremities will turn blue if insufficient oxygen is detected. The mannequin can replicate a variety of newborn medical situations, including the concave or convex appearance of the fontanel, the soft spot on the skull, to indicate whether there is too much or too little fluid present.

Nursing students must typically complete two years of prerequisite courses before working directly with the mannequins, although sophomores are introduced to their non-human patients during their first semester. Senior nursing majors must manage patients in five of the simulation rooms to further enhance the realities they will encounter in a hospital setting. In simulation, students are the decision makers and immediately see the results of their decisions in a real-time setting.

Students experience other real-world training situations as well. Through interdisciplinary simulations in conjunction with the Lamar Institute of Technology emergency medical technician paramedic and respiratory therapy programs, students act out emergency situations in role-playing scenarios that give students an opportunity to deal with live “patients.” These scenarios provide students the opportunity to deal with outside influences such as family members, clergy and other cultural issues that may arise in real emergencies.

Two groups of Lamar’s nursing instructors won prestigious statewide awards for these innovative teaching methods in 2011 and 2012 from the Texas Organization of Baccalaureate and Graduate Nursing Education Programs.

“We’re very proud of our nursing simulation center because it gives our students the hands-on, decision-making preparation they will need to be successful,” said Curl. “We have been told by health care professionals who have visited many nursing programs that our facility is one of the best in the country.”

The vision for the Clinical Simulation Center was made a reality in part by grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Higher Education Assistance Funds, federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant, and Community and University Partnerships grant, as well as contributions from the JoAnne Gay Dishman Endowment and Lamar University.

by Larry Acker

May 2012