Simulation schooling: Area nursing students put their skills to the test on mannequins to prepare for real patients

Maria Sabrina Mezyk remembers coming to Mount Aloysius College as a high school student and feeling awe at the school’s simulation labs.

A few years later, after originally going to school for something else, the State College resident is putting her skills to the test as a second-level nursing student.

Through staged medical scenarios, mannequins controlled through computer software programs are utilized in order for students to practice their nursing skills.

The mannequins “can teach us so much,” Mezyk said. “You can hear the heart sounds, the breath sounds, you can see the pulses just going … and it’s really, really neat.”

The high-fidelity computerized mannequins work off programmed case studies and react to the choices a student makes, giving them “the opportunity to practice in a safe environment before going out to the clinical area,” said Regina Barr, the college’s associate degree nursing chairperson.

The labs are realistic, and they often concentrate on students learning about safety in the workplace, Barr said.

Team work and collaboration, “being able to communicate and work as a team in the hospital setting,” is also an important concept for students to learn and is built into every scenario, too, she said.

“The students have roles that they have to perform and they’re assigned their roles, and they have to interact just like they were interacting with a real patient and family,” she said.

In a recent simulation inside one of the labs at Mount Aloysius, students cared for a teenage diabetic mannequin.

Theresa Brady, an assistant professor and lab simulation coordinator, brought in her teenage child’s clothing to dress the mannequin, and gave her a cell phone. Candy, a book written for teens and beauty products were laid out on the hospital tray table. The teen’s hand was hidden under the bed covers, concealing the fact that she was eating Doritos.

“It’s patient safety and communication [that are] the top priorities, and also performing the skills in a competent manner,” said Brady, who portrayed the teen’s voice over a microphone, guiding the students.

Students act out roles they are assigned, while Wes King, nursing IT support specialist and simulation technology specialist, manned the computers controlling the mannequins.

The labs have low and high-fidelity mannequins, including pediatric mannequins, and they recently got an obstetrician mannequin named Noelle, a maternal and neonatal simulator, who gives birth.

“They can count the contractions. They can run a rhythm strip. They watch the baby come down through the birth canal.” “There’s a bloody show. The whole bit,” Patrick Kenny said.

Kenny is the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association secretary and an assistant professor of Nursing and Health at DeSales University, Center Valley, Pa.

MAC’s highest fidelity mannequin is iStan, which can even perspire and bleed, Barr said.

Today, most nursing schools in Pennsylvania have simulation labs, Kenny said. Some are more elaborate than others.

Today, two manufacturers – Laerdal and Meti-Man – create high-fidelity mannequins, which cost about $50,000 to $60,000 each, Kenny said.

“They’re growing in sophistication,” he said of labs. “The days going to come when every school will have a very large simulation lab.”

St. Francis University and Penn State Altoona also have simulation labs.

Brenda L. Guzic, assistant director for telehealth/adjunct faculty at St. Francis University, said in an email that the school created the Clinical Education Learning Lab.

“Through St. Francis’ investment in medical simulation and integration of this mode of training into the curriculum, student competence has improved and students are better prepared for clinical practice,” she wrote.

The labs are “a great way to teach,” Kenny said. “Plus, I said, it’s a safe learning environment, so if they don’t catch on to something or they give the medication wrong, it’s not like on a live person, so you can say, ‘OK, we need to do it this way.'”

The reaction among MAC students, who Barr said apply what they learn in the classroom in the labs, is good.

“Oh, the students love it,” she said. “They feel that this prepares them to better handle the real situation in the clinical sites.”

Mezyk said she feels they are blessed to have the labs.

“It makes you a lot [more] well rounded,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.