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Nursing students learn with mannequins
June 13, 2012

Nursing student Paige Adkins performs an evaluation on a programmable mannequin. She concedes working with them was "a little creepy" at first because they blink and breathe. Photo: Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News / © 2012 San Antonio Express-News

By Jennifer R. Lloyd, San Antonio Express-News

A blond patient blinked up at a group of nursing students Tuesday from her hospital bed and told them she had chest pain.

As her pulse rate and chest pain increased, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio students clustered around her. Her condition deteriorated and students swapped off performing chest compressions, then belatedly sent an electric shock to her heart with a defibrillator.

She didn't make it.

Luckily for the students, the patient wasn't real. She was a life-sized mannequin, able to breathe, secrete fluids and transmit the voice of an operator in a nearby control room.

The learning scenario was made possible by the School of Nursing's new $3.5 million simulation center and clinical learning lab that will be formally unveiled today. It's a key aspect of training future nurses to fulfill the area's growing demand, officials said.

Projections show registered nursing jobs in Bexar County, for instance, will expand by more than 1,800 positions from 2011 to 2015, said Eva Esquivel, spokeswoman for Workforce Solutions Alamo.

San Antonio College, St. Philip's College and Galen College of Nursing here also have simulation centers.

"The major trend in medical education is to use sophisticated tools of instruction to teach students at all levels what they might encounter in patients," said Dr. William Henrich, UTHSCSA's president. "It gets (students) very comfortable with responding to life threatening situations in real time."

The nearly 7,300-square-foot center includes trauma, intensive care and medical-surgical units that replicate those in new University Hospital construction, said Eileen Breslin, dean of UTHSCSA's nursing school, which has more than 800 students.

In addition to support from the University Health System and elsewhere, the school received $1.5 million from Methodist Healthcare Ministries to buy almost a dozen high-tech mannequins, Breslin said.

The center will make students more at ease using equipment for everything from childbirth to ambulatory care before dealing with live patients, said Lou Ann Click, simulation center manager. The faculty can review students' work with them, going over their clinical choices and decisions.

At Tuesday's practice session with the ailing blond patient, that included discussing the best time to defibrillate.

Working with mannequins was "a little creepy" at first because they blink and breathe, said nursing student Paige Adkins, 25.

James Cleveland, assistant professor of nursing, said students begin to buy into the scenario as the simulation becomes more critical.

"It slowly goes from being a jointed, giant G.I. Joe to ... a real patient," he said. "I've had students cry when a (simulated) patient dies."

"We're obviously going to have empathy for the patient," said nursing student Juston Forte, 23, after unsuccessfully working to revive the mannequin. "Always."


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