College Uses Simulations to Teach Healthcare Students

WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa — Hospitals are constantly in need of nurses and other health care professionals, and those professionals must be prepared to care for patients with everything from pre-eclampsia to traumatic injuries.

That’s why Southeastern Community College designed, built and equipped its Great River Health Systems Health Professions Building — named in recognition of GRHS’ $1 million donation toward the building — to be capable of simulating the real thing. In the first year it opened, SCC’s health professions programs saw a 17 percent increase in enrollment.

“Simulation is a trend in health education,” SCC President Michael Ash told The Hawk Eye . “It’s really meeting a major area of need.”

While health professions students work with one of five mannequins from what SCC has dubbed the Sim Family (a sixth mannequin is at the Keokuk campus) in rooms designed to look like exam rooms, simulation technician Donald Aliprandi watches from the simulation center’s control room.

The mannequins are pre-programmed with scenarios through the National League of Nursing, and Aliprandi can tweak the algorithms to react to actions students take during the simulation.

“They were ignoring the fact that (Sim Mom) could have a seizure and didn’t take any seizure precautions,” Aliprandi recalled of a simulation that took place earlier this month. “So we had Sim Mom have a 15-second seizure.”

Sim Mom can do more than seize up. She also can give birth. As with real-life child birth, the process can get messy.

“We did a postpartum hemorrhage. That was quite messy,” Aliprandi said. “(The students) were really surprised about how much came out.”

The hemorrhage consisted of 615 milliliters of fake blood and 350 milliliters of fake urine that slowly leaked out of Sim Mom and onto the hospital bed and floor.

The baby mannequin, which, through staff vote, has been dubbed Baby Grace, is placed into a canister inside Sim Mom’s stomach. While Sim Mom’s in labor, students can monitor Baby Grace’s heartbeat, which is played through speakers inside Sim Mom’s stomach.

Grace can be positioned in the canister to make for an easy birth, such as with the occipito-posterior position, or a difficult birth, such as with the breached position, in which case the students must re-position the baby. Sim Mom also can be placed in different labor positions.

After the baby is out, students must tend to the infant to make sure it’s in good health, but they can’t forget about the placenta, which they inspect for abnormalities that might indicate something is wrong.

“(We inspect it) to make sure it’s all intact because if not, it means there could be pieces retained in the uterus, and that’s not good,” said Katelyn White, who is in her first year in the nursing program.

The mannequins can mimic a number of symptoms that could be indicators of a more serious condition in real life. The pupil sizes can be changed to indicate neurological problems on another sim baby that will be used heavily among respiratory care students, Sim Mom can exhibit tongue edema and lung resistance can be changed when students are practicing CPR.

Sim Man produces urine when a catheter is inserted and has multiple pulse points.

The mannequins also help students develop bedside manner. If, for example, a student points out the mannequin is displaying edema on the ankles and feet, Aliprandi will chime in through a speaker in the room saying he doesn’t know what that means, hoping the students will explain it to him in layman’s terms.

If students fail to take corrective action while treating their simulated patients, the mannequins can flat-line.

“Simulation is supposed to be considered a safe environment where it’s OK to make mistakes as long as they’re learning from them,” Aliprandi said.

After the students complete their simulation, they review it as a group with their instructor to discuss if anything could have been done differently.

The mannequins can be used as learning tools for existing medical professionals as well. SCC allows area hospital employees to use the mannequins to mimic rare scenarios they may experience only once in their careers.

The mannequins are far from the only equipment the college uses to prepare its students for a career in the medical field.

For EMS students, the college has first-responder equipment, including a full box ambulance.

“I’m only aware of one other school that has a full box ambulance,” Ash said.

Respiratory care students practice using forced air compressor units and ventilators, another device controls blood flow rates for students drawing blood or treating an injury, and software programs help prepare medical coding and billing and medical scribe students for the business side of health care.

Nursing students also participate in electronic medical record training using systems from area hospitals, such as Cerner, the electronic medical records system used at GRMC.

“It eases their transition to employment,” said Dean of Health Professions and Director of Nursing Kristi Schroeder.

“(Health professions programs) have strong enrollment and great job placement.”

There are about 250 students enrolled in one of the college’s health professions programs, and there should be even more in the future as SCC plans to add two more health professions programs in the near future: pharmacy technician and occupational therapy assistant.

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