Mannequins, actors help train future doctors, nurses

As many as 100 UIC students visit the Dr. Allan L. and Mary L. Graham Clinical Performance Center each day to practice clinical skills.

The students say UIC’s simulation lab helps them to build experience so that they can be confident health care professionals. Visits to the lab are part of coursework for students and residents in UIC’s health sciences programs, with specific scenarios designed by faculty.

First-year medical students, for example, practice how to communicate with “patients,” who are played by professional actors. The patients follow a specific script that describes medical history and symptoms of standard, generic cases, ranging from depression to diabetes. The patients respond to their student-physician’s questions, adding complications like communication challenges or underlying psychological issues.

After the encounter, the patient gives feedback — a unique opportunity for the students to find out what it feels like to be their patient.

“Students can practice having uncomfortable or difficult conversations with our standardized patients,” said Rachel Yudkowsky, the center’s director. “It takes practice to develop the needed skill and confidence in dealing with the interpersonal aspects of practicing medicine, so the center is a very important arena for building those techniques.”

“I am not sure what field I want to go into, but I know how I want to practice,” medical student Jillian Garcia said during a class at the lab. “This is teaching me that. How to build a rapport with my patients, how to build community, how to really listen and make sure I am getting at what they really need in order to be able to treat them as best as I can.”

Students practice other clinical skills on high-tech, life-sized mannequins that can blink, talk and breathe, and they have a pulse. Based on direction from a control room, the mannequins can experience a wide range of medical conditions, including heart failure.

Clinical skills include IV insertion, CPR, suturing, intubating and administering drugs. If a student gives the wrong dose of medication, the mannequin may show abnormal signals on the heart monitor or respond with rapid, shallow breathing. The students, acting as a team, must work to rescue the patient.

Instructors and fellow students in the debriefing room watch on video to provide feedback and discuss alternative approaches.

Many studies demonstrate that simulation more effectively prepares all types of providers, including physicians, nurses and first responders across the full spectrum of experience. One German study showed that students trained on simulators scored an average of 90 percent on their ability to complete steps required on a standard CPR checklist, while the other students scored only 62 percent.

“We want the students to get through the steep part of the learning curve here,” Yudkowsky said.

The Society for Simulation in Healthcare declared Sept. 11 to 15 the inaugural Healthcare Simulation Week. The week celebrates professionals who use simulation to improve the safety, effectiveness and efficiency of health care delivery.