News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nurses Practice With High Tech, Tiny Manikins

Laerdal Medical
Nurses practice medical procedures on a high-fidelity baby manikin.

Maybe you’ve seen a baby doll that cries or hiccups, but how about one with a pulse? At UT Arlington’s College of Nursing, teachers put students through the paces of emergency scenarios remotely, using computer-programmed baby manikins.


High Tech Simulation

“Healthcare providers don’t learn on patients anymore,” says Judy LeFlore. “We don’t practice procedures on new patients, [medcal students] learn about it in a simulated environment.”

LeFlore is Associate Dean of the College of Nursing at UTA. She coordinates the remote-control distance simulation project with grant support from Pediatrix Medical Group. She’s watching the nurses from a split screen in her office, controlling everything that happens in a remote site.

In Texas, four medical centers serving veterans have some of the nation’s worst wait times for new patients. In Dallas, it takes an average of forty days to schedule an appointment with a VA doctor.*

To speed up access to health care, the North Texas VA is ramping up partnerships with private practice doctors.

Ever since Ralph Taylor joined the Navy in 1960, boating has been in his blood.

“I’m like Oz,” she says “I create the scenarios and then each of their interventions I respond with an appropriate patient response.”

She might make it so the baby needs CPR, or extra fluids. In this case, it’s a blocked airway and a popped lung. When she selects that on her computer, it alters the manikin baby’s heart and breathing rate appropriately. When the nurses provide oxygen, there’s also a response from the high-fidelity manikin, called the SimNewB.

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
Judy LeFlore, Associate Dean of the College of Nursing at UTA, monitoring a simulation scenario.

“He is computerized,” LeFlore exlains, “His chest rises and falls, he has breathe sounds, a heart sound, you can do procedures on him.”

And yes, he cries.

Why Simulation?

LeFlore uses remote-distance simulation with her students at UTA, and to train nurses across Texas.

“We have a very large rural area,” LeFlore says, “and they can’t stop what they’re doing and come to Arlington or some simulation center to continue training and learn new procedures. So this is a way that we can go out there and go to rural Texas and help them learn new things.”

Michelle Aebersold directs the Clinical Learning Center at University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. She says simulation has become a popular teaching method at nursing schools. But until last week, there wasn’t much evidence it worked.

That’s when the National Council of State Boards of Nursing released the results from a two-year study including more than six hundred nursing students. The study found that up to 50 percent of education can be through simulation exercises instead of clinical practice.

Nurses practice medical procedures on a high-fidelity baby manikin.

This is important, Aebersold says, because finding a chance to get in clinical hours is challenging, and there’s no way to guarantee students experience treating a baby with rare serious conditions, like spinabifida – where the spinal cord is partially outside the body.

The Cost Of Simulation

Of course not every school of nursing can afford to outfit their simulation center with simulators that cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

But, Aebersold says, when you factor in the cost of hiring faculty, and the potential cost of having students practice on real patients, and there could be savings.

“We really need to start thinking about what is the return on investment of those simulators, how long do they last, how many simulations can we run through,” she says.

Back in UT Arlington, Judy LeFlore says the value in education is clear.

“When it’s over with, we stop and I’m able to play the video back to them and they’re able to watch themselves,” LeFlore says. “And we talk about what they did, what they could have done better, and that’s where the learning really takes place.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.