May School simulation lab gains new patient in life-like Aries simulator

The Hart Simulation Center in the May School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Lees-McRae has admitted a new patient. Although he can speak, and his eyes can track you, this patient is not alive—he’s a high-tech simulator mannequin named Aries.

Aries joins several other simulator mannequins in the lab including Victoria, who simulates childbirth, the crying infants she births, Hal who can produce sweat and realistically bleed, and multiple others. These simulators allow the nursing students to practice essential skills in an environment as close to reality as possible.

“This is where they make mistakes. If you give a med wrong and you kill somebody, we come over here and we talk about it for a minute, then I bring them back to life and you go do it again until you get it right,” Barbara Leduc, clinical director of Hart Simulation Center, said. “It builds muscle memory. The brain is a muscle, so if you exercise it then it can take over even if you panic.”

Although the lab is a place for students to practice and make mistakes in a controlled environment, Leduc takes great care to make the lab as close to reality as possible. In the lab students undergo scenarios that Leduc plans in detail. The lab is arranged like a real hospital and makes use of actual medical machinery. Even the mannequins are as close to alive as they can be.

Leduc controls the bodily functions of the simulators from within a small control room attached to the lab. Here she observes the students with cameras and microphones but emphasizes that they are largely left to their own devices during a simulation so they can make their own mistakes.

“We pre-brief, they go over their simulation, one student is assigned charge nurse, and that student assigns roles to the rest of the group so they know what they’re doing, and then they do everything on their own unless they really screw up,” Leduc said.

Within the control room, Leduc has lots of flexibility with the mannequins. She navigates control pads with dozens of options that make the mannequins as realistic as possible. In Aries’ case, these settings include changing blinking speed, adjusting eye color to appear bloodshot or jaundiced, making retching sounds, and more.

“This pad controls Aries,” Leduc said, pressing a button on the pad, making Aries cough. “My belly hurts,” Aries said with another tap of Leduc’s finger.

Aries also has accessible veins which students can use to place IVs and push medication. His face and body can be swapped out to make him appear young or old, and male or female. All of this is to give the students a sense of immersion in the simulation.

“Sometimes the simulators die, and that can be traumatic. I’ve had students cry, I’ve had students go sit by themselves and not talk for a minute, because they’ve taken care of that patient multiple times at that point, and they become kind of close to them,” Leduc said. “They learn how to deal with all of that trauma here where they can break down, they can say something stupid and it doesn’t hurt anyone, but then we can talk about it, and they’ll remember not to do it in real life. The first time you lose a patient in the hospital it is hard to deal with.”

Leduc runs multiple simulations throughout the semester where students care for patients in various scenarios and with a range of physical and mental health issues. According to Leduc, the work she does with students in the simulation lab is invaluable once they get into clinicals and are working with real patients. She said having the experience of working with a patient, even in a simulation, boosts the students’ confidence and self-assurance in the field.

“They’ve seen the equipment, they’ve hung bags of fluids, they can run an antibiotic into their IV, they know how to do all these things so that when they get to clinicals they’re not completely overwhelmed,” Leduc said. “They may not remember it all, and they’ll definitely need some help, but they don’t feel lost.”

By Maya JarrellMarch 16, 2022