Nursing students learn skills on medical mannequins

Videography by Rachel Glass


Janet Lee felt nervous as she watched the baby’s breathing become labored and its complexion turn from white to blue. She knew, however, that the infant was not going to die.

The senior nursing student was treating a mannequin that closely resembled a child in the College of Nursing’s M. Christine Schwartz Experiential Learning Laboratory. After reading the baby’s vital signs from a computer printout, Lee and her classmate hurriedly began formulating a treatment plan to restore the baby’s health. Their quick reactions and knowledge helped the baby survive.

The college’s new facility provides students like Lee with hands-on clinical experience using a variety of simulation activities performed on realistic mannequins. The previous laboratory consisted of a small room in the college’s lower floor where only two students could work at a time, performing only a limited number of simulations per semester.

As part of a $2.2 million donation from the T & C Schwartz Family Foundation, a vacant area on the same floor as the previous laboratory was transformed into three larger rooms resembling those in a hospital. Operating three days a week, the new lab can accommodate as little as eight or as many as 50 students at a time.

The laboratory has 12 simulated patients, ranging in size from an infant to half torso to full-bodied, each having different physical characteristics. Some produce sounds from their heart and lungs, and can go into cardiac arrest so students can perform CPR and revive them. On others, students can practice inserting different tubes, such as a tracheotomy in the throat or a tube in the chest.

Nursing instructors provide students with real-life scenarios. Each case — involving pediatric, midwifery, acute care, obstetrics, critical care and primary care situations — is different and can last from five to 20 minutes, said Jennifer O’Rourke, director of the clinical resource learning center.

A glass-enclosed control room allows instructors to monitor the procedures and regulate the mannequins, while videotaping the scenarios. Once the students have completed the task, they review the case with the instructor.

“The students are so focused while working on the mannequins that sometimes they don’t remember what they did, so the video reminds them,” O’Rourke said. “It’s good for them to see themselves.”

Sometimes the students are asked to perform the procedure a second time, “to reinforce the learning experience,” O’Rourke said. “We want the students to leave the simulation lab feeling successful.”

While all of the students have been performing clinical rotations at area hospitals, the scenarios in the simulation laboratory are different and new to the students, Lee said.

“In our clinical rotations there is always a preceptor nurse present,” Lee said. “In the simulation lab, we are totally alone, aside from our partner. I was very nervous, but I feel like that is part of the experience. Our instructors want us out of our comfort zone.

“I feel the lab is the perfect way to bridge our knowledge and theory and clinical skills. I feel I will be more prepared as a nurse because of this.”

In addition to learning on simulated patients, students can become proficient on how to develop a medication protocol through a Pyxis dispensing system, which helps accurately dispense medication safely and efficiently. The machine is identical to those used in a hospital.

“Very few nursing schools in the country have such a comprehensive simulation laboratory,” O’Rourke said.

“We’re extremely proud of our new simulation lab. We feel we have an advantage over other nursing schools because of the new Schwartz Learning Laboratory.”

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