It was harrowing, student nurse Lisa Bowen said.
Her patient was undergoing a medical procedure on his kidney. Shortly after Bowen attached an IV to give him blood, he began showing signs of a severe allergic reaction.
“I can’t breathe,” he gasped. His arm felt itchy, he said, and his heart began racing. Bowen quickly detached the IV and called for a doctor.
Although allergic reactions can be life-threatening, Bowen never worried that her patient would die — because he was not alive. He was one of a growing number of high-tech, lifelike manikins that the George Washington University School of Nursing in Ashburn uses to train students.
The most sophisticated manikins can talk and move their eyes, said Patty Davis, director of the school’s Skills and Simulation Lab. They have pulses, and their lungs make realistic sounds, she said.
And that’s not all.
“The high-fidelity ones can vomit, [have seizures], have a heart attack and urinate,” said Billinda Tebbenhoff, associate dean of the school’s undergraduate division. She explained that small reservoirs in the manikins hold simulated bodily fluids that are released in various situations. One manikin can even give birth, she said.
GWU’s School of Nursing, which celebrated its fifth anniversary and opened its third simulation lab in October, is increasingly using manikins to teach nursing students, said Pamela Jeffries, the school’s dean.
Manikins have been used as teaching tools for decades. The best known, Resusci Anne, was developed for teaching CPR in the 1960s, Jeffries said. Advances in technology have made them increasingly valuable in teaching nurses how to respond to a variety of medical situations.
Jeffries said the use of manikins and lab simulations is “exploding” in nursing schools across the country. The manikins are particularly useful for exposing students to rare but dangerous scenarios, such as a mother hemorrhaging during childbirth, she said.
“Hopefully, you don’t see that much,” Jeffries said. “But if you see it, you’d better be ready, because you . . . can’t go read a book and figure out what to do. You’ve just got to be ready.”
Although the student nurses practice some routine medical procedures on human subjects, some situations, such as heart attacks, overdoses and end-of-life processes, are difficult to simulate with real people, Tebbenhoff said.
The manikins also enable students to practice routine procedures until they become second nature, Tebbenhoff said.
“It’s not to replace caring for humans,” she said. “It’s to have the muscle memory of doing skills perfectly after constant repetition.”
One of the school’s three simulation labs is set up as an eight-bed hospital ward, with a control room on one side. Lifelike manikins of all ages, races and sizes sit or lie in the beds as student nurses attend to them.
Faculty members can observe the students from the control room through a two-way mirror. They monitor the manikins’ vital signs, use microphones to make them talk and control their bodily functions.
If necessary, the controller can pause the simulation so the student can discuss options with a teacher, Davis said.
“The manikins give us the opportunity to . . . go through the exercise without the fear of hurting someone,” Bowen said.
Nevertheless, it can be stressful for the students when their patients show signs of distress.
“Because they have that actual voice and all of those human vital signs, you can actually get into the frame of mind that they’re real,” Bowen said.
Barnes is a freelance writer.