BTC students practice nursing care using high-tech mannequins

In a simulation lab at Bellingham Technical College, four registered nursing students were getting a feel for the real world as they tried to help a sick Vincent Brody.

The 67-year-old “man” was flat on his back in a bed in his hospital room, moaning and struggling to breathe.

Javier Prieto raised the bed until he was upright. Brody stopped moaning. He could breathe easier, he told the nursing students.

“I can imagine so, lying flat is not a good position,” said Rachel Zender, a student from Ferndale.

As Zender adjusted his oxygen level and Prieto, of Lynden, took his blood pressure, Brody started coughing intermittently — struggling as he was with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a grouping of illnesses that can include asthma, emphysema or bronchitis, or a combination of them.

At least that was the scenario, created by the National League for Nursing, the students were working through in their simulated medical visit with Brody, a high-tech mannequin worth $86,000.

Generally known as SimMan, the mannequin was the most advanced of the seven human patient simulators, both adults and infants, in the room.

Brody could blink. His pupils could react. He could bleed. He could sweat. He could breathe, in that his chest rose and fell. He had pulses in his lower extremities, such as the back of his knees and the top of his feet. He could receive intravenous fluids, and had a sensor to record how quickly students gave him medication through his IV.

Overall, the mannequins are used to help nursing students learn as they work their way through increasingly complex scenarios. (Whatcom Community College also has such a lab.)

Rika Winquist, a simulation tech, and nursing teacher Mary Curran determined what symptoms Brody would have and how he would react Wednesday morning, March 4, as the students worked to relieve the patient’s shortness of breath.

Winquist and Curran watched the students from a control room, where Curran spoke into a microphone as Brody. Other noises, such as his moaning, and the wheezing in his lungs, were programmed.

People can see a simulation for themselves during an open house at BTC on Tuesday, March 10, an event to showcase its lab and expanded nursing program, made possible with the help of a $2.7 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to increase the number of nurses. The school offers an associate of applied science degree in nursing.

More registered nurses are needed to replace an aging workforce.

“Thirty percent of RNs are over 55 in our region, state and nationally,” said Cindy Hollinsworth, director of nursing at BTC. “This is an awesomely scary number as the baby boomers really are starting to retire (and) possibly use more nursing services in all settings as they age.”

And, Hollinsworth said, with health care reform, “more people than ever have access to health care and care that requires nurses.”

Students can apply what they learn in the classroom in a realistic setting as they care for mannequin patients, and instructors can assess students’ competence before they take care of actual patients.

“The ability to really replicate realistic things here in the lab is huge for student outcomes,” Hollinsworth said.

On Wednesday, Curran observed the four students working through their scenario with Brody. In addition to Zender and Prieto, student and Ferndale resident Kristine Krumdiack played the role of nurse team lead, while student and Stanwood resident Shelby Kerns played the role of Brody’s wife.

The students made Brody comfortable, checked his vitals, listened to his lungs, discussed his medication, and gave him albuterol via a nebulizer, a device that administered the medication as mist inhaled into the lungs — explaining what they were doing along the way to him and his “wife.” They also gave him prednisone. Both drugs were meant to open up his airway and help him breathe easier.

After they were done, the students gathered around with Curran to discuss what they did well and what they needed to improve.

“It’s a safe learning environment,” Curran said.

Students referred to the space as the sim lab, and said they liked training with the mannequins because the experience provided a dose of reality and a chance to make mistakes without causing harm. They said the mistakes they made, they would remember.

“I love the sim lab. It gives us an opportunity to get to hear and feel what the real-life scenario is going to be,” Krumdiack said. “The SimMan has vital signs and he even sweats. It gives us a taste before we have to get sent out into the real world.”

Prieto echoed those thoughts.

“If you’re going to make mistakes, you make them on the dummy; you don’t make them on a real person,” he said. “Believe it or not, going through the steps and talking about what we did good and what we did bad is very helpful.”