Patient simulator a game-changer for the WCC nursing program and its students

Students from a Nursing Concepts I class at Washtenaw Community College are introduced to some capabilities of the college’s new patient simulator. | Photo by Lon Horwedel

Students from a Nursing Concepts I class at Washtenaw Community College are introduced to some capabilities of the college’s new patient simulator. | Photo by Lon Horwedel

Communications Manager

The newest Big Man on Campus at Washtenaw Community College doesn’t yet have a name, but he can talk, cry, bleed, vomit and go into cardiac arrest.

And “he” can become a “she” with a relatively simple swapping of anatomy.

The recently purchased Laerdal SimMan 3G isn’t the only human patient simulator that students in WCC’s Nursing and Health Sciences programs work with, but it is the most technologically advanced. And advanced robots just like it are changing the face of healthcare education.

WCC added the SimMan 3G to its simulation lab prior to the start of Fall 2017 classes, following a national trend to increase simulation exercises within the curriculum at nursing and medical schools.

On a recent afternoon, Cecily Luck and her classmates made rounds in the simulation lab, moving from bed to bed and asking the patients how they are feeling, checking pupil reaction and vital signs, hooking up IVs and administering drugs.

“It really gives you an opportunity to practice your skills,” says Luck, a senior in a collaborative nursing program between WCC and Eastern Michigan University. “In a clinical setting, you really don’t get to do as much. In the simulation lab, we can immediately correlate a patient experience with what we’re learning in class.”

Those experiences are being controlled by a team of WCC faculty beyond a pane of glass in the lab. Simulation technician Jeffrey Stout — who has operated the same model for medical students at the University of Michigan Hospital — uses a computer dashboard to make SimMan’s physical responses to the students’ treatment mimic real-life scenarios, adjusting its heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory sounds and other vital signs accordingly.

Meanwhile, nursing faculty members Sherry MacDonald and Hope Delecke create scenarios to which the students must respond. Students’ interactions with the patients are videotaped by overhead cameras for later review and analysis.

“The more realistic we make the experience, the more the students seem to rise to the challenge,” MacDonald said.

Dean of Health Sciences Dr. Valerie Greaves says research shows the use of simulation labs is more or equally beneficial for nursing students in comparison with actual clinical time, when students are placed at medical facilities. In 2016, the Michigan Board of Nursing declared that up to 50-percent of nursing clinical time can be spent in a simulation lab.

“Hands-on experience with patient simulators gives students the opportunity to experience treatment of a greater variety of illnesses and chronic diseases that they may not necessarily experience while in the actual clinical setting,” Greaves said.

National nursing boards are realizing the efficacy of simulation and allowing one hour of simulation lab time to be the equivalent of two hours of care in a clinical lab setting.

Finding clinical sites for every student can be a challenge. That has limited growth of the high-demand program in the past and resulted in a wait-list of students who are qualified to pass its competitive admission process. This fall, along with the addition of SimMan, the nursing program also grew by 90 students.