Nursing students turn to dummy for answers

WORTHINGTON -- Sam was in bad shape. Sweaty and pale, the 44-year-old male entered the emergency room telling his medics, "I can't breathe, and my chest hurts."...

WORTHINGTON -- Sam was in bad shape. Sweaty and pale, the 44-year-old male entered the emergency room telling his medics, "I can't breathe, and my chest hurts."

The medical team put him on oxygen and aspirin, started him on an IV drip with nitroglycerin and carefully monitored his heart rate. The nurses even called a social worker to help a hysterical family member, a medical technician to take blood for testing and then sent him to intensive care.

Through it all, Sam stayed pale and stiff, never moving a muscle -- for good reason.

Sam doesn't have any muscles. And despite having a heartbeat and showing all the symptoms of a heart attack, Sam doesn't have a heart, either.

In fact, "Sam" isn't even his name, just one of the many aliases the nursing teachers of Minnesota West Community and Technical Colleges have given their simulation mannequin over the past two years.


"It's actually very helpful; that way we can have a chance to look at what actually goes on in the field," said nursing student Stacy Wendorff.

The mannequin breathes, talks, has a pulse and heartbeat and looks a lot like a real person -- making him ideal for practicing nursing techniques students of the registered nursing program will need to use on real people in the field.

Student nurses can put an IV in his arm, and if they miss the vein, the mannequin might just say "Ouch!"

"You never send a basketball team to play a game without lots and lots of practice, and that makes sense," said Ruth Van Heukelom, nursing instructor and leader of the simulations. "... (nursing students) learn more effectively if they can actually do it."

Van Heukelom can program the sim-patient to do just about anything. "Sam," for example, had a fluctuating heart rate, and had Van Heukelom chosen, could have suffered from tachycardia -- a rapid heartbeat -- and even died.

"They're supposed to talk to the (mannequin) like they're a real person and talk to the family like they're real family," Van Heukelom said.

When they enter the nursing lab, Van Heukelom tells each student what role she or he is to take during the simulation. Van Heukelom usually serves as the physician in charge during the simulation. One of the students is the nurse in charge, one is a licensed practical nurse, and several may be family members of the "patient."

The family members react just like real family members, asking questions and getting in the way or simply crying and staying close to the "patient." Sometimes the faux family members disagree about treatment plans and argue with each other and the student nurses, too.


The "patient" itself can be cooperative or cranky and must be spoken to like a real patient.

Student nurses are supposed to explain everything they do to the patient, help keep the person calm and educate the patient about any decisions to be made. They are also supposed to catch any physician errors, delegate tasks correctly and accurately report symptoms to the physician, Van Heukelom said.

"I think they really learn a lot," said Diane Vangsness, a nursing instructor at Minnesota West. "It's a non-threatening atmosphere. They can practice on a seriously ill patient. If they do hurt (the mannequin), he can be reset."

Aside from suffering a heart attack, "Simi" -- another of the mannequin's nicknames -- can suffer pediatric poisoning, or can have pregnancy complications with the swapping out of a few parts.

Simi wears name bands and allergy bands like a real patient would in a hospital, and Minnesota West's nursing lab looks quite a bit like a real hospital, too. Several of its beds are occupied by mannequins, though most of them aren't as high-tech as the one used for the patient simulations. The lesser mannequins cost about $10,000 apiece.

Simi cost the college $30,000. Second-year nurses in the registered nursing program typically have at least four days of lab simulations.

"After we were done with every case, we sat down and talked about every case and the things we noticed and saw," Wendorff said. "I feel if you learn something with your hands, you'll remember easier."

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