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High-Tech Patient Teaches US Nurses Critical Skills

Students from a medical school in the United States are learning emergency medical techniques from advanced simulator patients. Georgetown University has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying the latest simulators, which combine mechanical body systems, chemical sensors and cutting-edge computer programming to simulate major body functions. There are about 1,000 such simulators around the world. The use and popularity of these systems has recently increased among nursing students in the United States.

His name is Gus. He is not breathing very well and his heart rate is high.

Megan Stevens is a postgraduate student nurse who has worked at a family general practice clinic. She is learning techniques to react to different situations when Gus needs emergency care. "You know the assessments are done quickly, trying to work out what's going on with the patient and trying to fix [it], in giving him some medication, cardioverting him, like we did today, and seeing if that works and if not, keep going, trying to work out what will make him better," she explains.

"I can't seem to catch my breath," Gus said.

The team interacts with the patient, whose voice comes from Stephen Hurst, the University's Director of Medical Technologies.

Gus responds, "I tried sitting up or lying down, nothing makes it better."

Hurst also manages the computer and monitoring systems in the control room. "The simulators we possess are high-fidelity simulators," he says. "They allow our students to interact with a physical mannequin and get the associated response, whether it is feeling pulses, or hearing lung sounds or breath sounds."

This simulator is one of a family of three mannequin patients at Georgetown university - a man, a woman and a child.

Hurst changes the symptoms as students work on the mannequin patients. He says the simulator is the most advanced teaching aid in medical history. "Every time it takes a breath in, the computer samples a little bit of that gas, and figures out how much oxygen is in it, how much anesthetic gas in it. and then calculates with mathematical models for the appropriate response," Hurst said.

Program Director Dr. Karen Kesten sets up particular scenarios before the class begins. Watching from another room, she can assess the nurses' ability to respond to unpredictable situations.

"It gives me the opportunity to evaluate my students' assessment skills and their intervention skills, their recognition of a problem with a patient and how quickly they respond and intervene appropriately or inappropriately," Dr. Kesten said.

Student nurse Alexis Walter says the simulator enables her to experience situations she might never have come across before. "We get nervous because our instructors are watching us. It is the place to make mistakes, but when you are in school you feel the need to not make mistakes, but it is honestly the best place to do it," Walter said.

After the patient is stabilized, the students are given feedback on their performance, enabling them to take those lessons back to the clinics and hospitals where they work.