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Simulation technology helping nursing students make life-and-death decisions

LA CROSSE, Wis. - In the medical field, sometimes one decision can make the difference in saving a patient's life.

Viterbo University nursing students are gaining confidence in making those tough decisions with the help of some high-tech technology.

When taking care of patients, doctors and nurses have to be prepared for just about anything.

"Hey Doris, I'm going to be your nurse today. My name is Dave," said David Golomski, a Viterbo University nursing student.

Golomski is one of five Viterbo nursing students training on how to respond to real life scenarios with the help of Doris, a hi-tech mannequin.

"It can be intimidating," said Golomski. "Sometimes the patient will be kind of difficult for you."

"They fixed my hip today," said Doris, the high tech mannequin. "Yup, how's that feeling?" Golomski asked Doris.

The technology is as close as it gets for students to be able to practice real life scenarios without major consequences for mistakes.


"You know if you do screw up, they're not going to necessarily die," said Golomski. "So it gives you a chance, and if you're really struggling then you can ask questions and tell the instructor, ‘I'm not sure what to do here' and it kind of enhances your learning that way too."

But don't let Doris' plastic appearance fool you. She blinks, she breathes and even responds to questions and medications just like a person.

"Doris, can you stay awake for me?" asked Golomoski.

"Would you stop that?" replied Doris.

The magic happens in a back room behind a one-way mirror.

Instructors are able to see and control Doris's every move.

"Everything hurts now, especially where you're rubbing my chest," said Doris. "Stop that."

It's real-world experience the instructors said is just as good or sometimes even better than training in an actual hospital.

"You're at the mercy of the patients in the hospital," said Pam Knowles, assistant professor of nursing at Viterbo. "If the hospital is having a good day, the students are having a good day. They might not learn a whole lot. In simulation we can make sure that students are learning what we really need them to learn in order to be safe nurses."

While these training simulations may only last for a class period, the confidence students gain stays with them far after the scenario ends.

"We're probably going to come back every 15 minutes to check on you OK?" said Golomski. "Ok, I'll be watching the clock and telling you if you're late," replied Doris. "OK, if you need anything else just use your call button OK?" responded Golomski.

The technology has only been a part of the Viterbo nursing curriculum for about a year, but is proving to be a helpful learning technique for students who have graduated from the program.

Knowles said several graduates who have gone on to be professionals in the medical field have encountered some of the scenarios they worked through as students, and have been able to rely on their simulation training to help them take better care of their patients.

Viterbo has four high-tech mannequins to use for simulations.

So far, more than 200 students have participated in the simulations throughout their course work.

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