'Smart' mannequins breathe life into medical scenarios

December 12, 2013 by Elaine Schmidt, University of California, Los Angeles
'Smart' mannequins breathe life into medical scenarios
Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, gets an introduction to Noelle, a mannequin that is programmed to give birth in a number of ways.

"This is the worst pain ever!" screams a woman in the delivery ward, her eyelids fluttering as the baby's skull crowns between her legs."

Adding to the cacophony, an infant nearby in the neonatal unit jerks his arms and cries in distress, his tiny chest heaving under his striped onesie.

In the operating room, an unconscious motorcyclist lies on the table with a blue drape circling the open fracture in his shin. Blood also oozes from the bandage around his forehead, adding to the urgency. Surgical instruments lined up on a tray gleam under the bright light. A crash cart equipped with a defibrillator stands by.

Just your average day at the Reagan UCLA Medical Center? Not exactly.

All of these "patients" are life-sized, computer-programmed mannequins in the newly renovated UCLA Simulation Center. Located in the basement level of the Learning Resource Center across the street from the medical center, the facility blends the latest in technology with life-or-death scenarios to help health care trainees polish their clinical decision-making and teamwork skills before treating living patients.

"Simulation-based learning embeds the lessons of the teaching experience deeply into the participants without risk to patients," explained UCLA anesthesiologist Dr. Randolph Steadman, who in 1996 founded the center—the first in Southern California—and continues to serve as its medical director.

'Smart' mannequins breathe life into medical scenarios
From the main control room, staff can run medical scenarios for the ER, OR and ICU simulation rooms.

The facility benefited from a $1 million donation by Eugene and Maxine Rosenfeld in 2006. It expanded from a modest training unit for anesthesiology residents into a sophisticated, fully staffed 9,000-square-foot center that trains , residents and fellows from 10 departments throughout the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, as well as nursing students and dental residents.

Medical students "treat" one of the center's 14 mannequins in small-group simulations tied to subjects in the four-year curriculum. Eerily life-life, the full-body mannequins range in age from newborn to 5 years old to adult. Computerized variables control the sounds of the mannequin's breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and other vital signs.

Noelle, the mannequin in labor, occasionally has her baby born breech. Or the simulation specialist can swap out her belly—equipped with an umbilical cord and placenta—for a C-section birth. To add realism, humans—actors or staff members—are sometimes recruited to portray Noelle's hysterical husband and worried family members. By causing a commotion, they force trainees to practice their bedside manner while juggling technical skills.

With a dozen desktop monitors glowing in the dim light, the main control room is where the simulation's director silently orchestrates each scenario. An intricate network of video cameras, computers and servers allow instructors and students to watch as their classmates try to keep their wits about them in the fast-paced, role-playing lesson.

"From the main control room, we run operations for the ER, OR and ICU simulation rooms," explained Steadman. "This can mean changing the patient's voice or manipulating vital signs. The instructor directs the scenario and runs the computerized mannequin with one of our simulation experts. Our third-year students often 'deliver' Noelle's baby here to prepare them before their OB-Gyn rotations in the hospital setting."

The center's task training room is equally striking. Mannequin heads and torsos of all ages lay on tables, allowing students to practice hands-on skills needed to place a breathing tube, image the heart or lungs via ultrasound, perform a colonoscopy or remove polyps, an appendix or gall bladder.

'Smart' mannequins breathe life into medical scenarios
Heidi Crooks, senior associate director of operations and patient care service for UCLA Health System, checks out the mannequin torsos that are used to practice various medical procedures.

Virtual-reality ultrasound and surgical simulators with hand-held instruments allow a detailed view of the organ, which bleeds onscreen if a would-be surgeon nicks tissue or a blood vessel. At the end of the procedure, the trainee must achieve a certain score to advance to the next level.

This far surpasses how students used to learn medicine not so long ago, according to Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor of the Geffen School of Medicine. During an open house at the center last week, he enjoyed trying his hand at the virtual colonoscopy machine.

Before the days of high-tech teaching tools, recalled Feinberg, "The approach was 'See one, do one, teach one.' You'd watch someone perform a procedure, try it on a patient the next day and then teach someone else the day after that."

"Surgeries used to last considerably longer at teaching hospitals," added Steadman. "That's because trainees would hone their skills on real patients. With high-tech simulation, UCLA health care providers can now achieve a certain level of proficiency before caring for their patients."

Explore further: Simulation-based communication training does not improve quality of end-of-life care

Related Stories

Simulation-based communication training does not improve quality of end-of-life care

December 3, 2013
Among internal medicine and nurse practitioner trainees, simulation-based communication skills training compared with usual education did not improve quality of communication about end-of-life care or quality of end-of-life ...

Medical students learn practical skills with unique tools

September 4, 2013
The pregnant patient was first confused, then unresponsive. All of a sudden, she started to shake.

CWRU nursing school turns to alums as patient actors in novel training approach

November 11, 2013
Alumni from Case Western Reserve University School of Nursing switched roles from being nurses to patients with depression and substance abuse issues. They made the change to give Case Western Reserve University's student ...

LSUHSC simulation or team training improves performance and patient safety

November 1, 2013
A study conducted by an inter-professional team of LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans faculty found that simulation-based operating room team training of medical and nursing students resulted in more effective teamwork ...

Scripts help novice instructors teach pediatric CPR

April 24, 2013
New, low-tech teaching techniques used by novice instructors may improve training for healthcare providers in performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on children who suffer cardiac arrest. Researchers in a large multicenter ...

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.