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MNE introduces high-tech patient simulators

For nearly 10 years, Mercyhurst North East has offered students in its allied health programs access to state-of-the-art patient simulators.

This year Mercyhurst North East added a new simulation suite and four high-fidelity Laerdal simulators for use in maternity and pediatric education. The new center was made possible through the generosity of the The Orris C. Hirtzel and Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel Memorial Foundation, which donated nearly $605,000 toward construction and equipment. All told, the Hirtzel Foundation has gifted more than $3.5 million to Mercyhurst North East during the last 25 years.

The Hirtzel Maternity and Pediatric Simulation Learning Center, which houses Sim Mom, Sim Baby, Sim NewB and Sim Junior, was dedicated during an Open House on Wednesday, March 23, on the second floor of MNE’s Miller Hall. Live demonstrations revealed the simulators’ lifelike qualities including vocalizations, palpable pulses, and a chest that rises and falls with each breath.

"Simulators allow faculty to create scenarios we want students to be able to handle in practice," said Assistant Professor Patricia Pulito, a master’s level nurse educator who is certified in healthcare simulation.

Simulated experiences prepare students to respond to real life situations such as a patient experiencing a seizure or a cardiac arrest. This year, for example, students in their final semester of the Associate Degree Nursing program will be completing advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) training that includes participating in a simulated "code" and using a defibrillator to restart the simulated patient's heart.

For Mercyhurst North East, however, the addition of this state-of-the-art equipment is about more than just technology. It is becoming increasingly difficult to place students in clinical specialty areas like maternity and pediatrics. Students may have limited opportunities to acquire hands-on experience with these patient populations, an essential part of their curricula.

This spring, the practical nursing (PN) students had the opportunity to use Sim Mom to deliver a baby whose umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck.  “Sim Mom's baby has a very authentic feel during and after delivery," explained Pulito. "Using Sim Mom and Sim NewB allows students to connect the theory learned in class, and the skills practiced in lab with the actual event.”  Sim NewB moves and has skin color that changes when his oxygen level declines. After the delivery, students are able to assess Sim NewB and assign an APGAR score at one and five minutes. 

Moreover, using simulation allows faculty to ensure that students care for patients with specific conditions. For example, in a clinical setting, it isn't possible to guarantee every student will care for a patient with heart failure, postpartum hemorrhage, or sickle cell anemia. Using simulation makes this possible.

According to Pulito: “In the clinical setting, students are often relegated to an observational role during a patient crisis. The beauty of simulation is it allows students the opportunity to actually experience caring for a patient whose condition is changing – to use clinical reasoning skills, prioritize patient care, communicate with other members of the health care team, and delegate tasks as needed…to do all the things an actual nurse would do in practice.”

After each simulation, students and faculty participate in a debriefing, felt to be the most important part of a simulation. During a debriefing, faculty guide students to reflect on the event and to discuss aspects of the simulation that went well and to identify opportunities for improvement. Faculty help students explore how the simulation can be used to improve their current and future practice, and ultimately to provide safe, quality care.