Pregnant Mannequin Speaks!

Thomas MacMillan Photo“Sim-Mom” was ready to deliver—a tiny mannequin baby.

Not only that: “She will talk. She’ll cry. She’ll scream,” Sheila Solernou said proudly.

Solernu, head of Gateway Community College’s nursing program, knows firsthand. She deals not just with Sim-Mom, but a host of high-tech mannequins who serve as teaching tools in a new era of nursing education.

The mannequins live in a new cutting-edge nursing lab on the fourth floor of Gateway’s south building on George Street downtown. The lab was the site of a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Monday afternoon. School officials publicly thanked Yale-New Haven Hospital President and CEO Marna Borgstrom for the hospital’s donation of $500,000 to help build the lab, dubbed the Yale-New Haven Hospital Nursing Suite.

“You have truly put the wings beneath so many students’ wings,” said Gateway President Dorsey Kendrick.

Borgstrom noted that of the 600 nurses who have graduated from Gateway’s nursing program since it was established in 2002, Yale-New Haven Hospital has hired more than 250 of them.

Another mannequin, in the first examining room,  exhibited a number of strange symptoms. One of his eyes was dilated, his skin was cold, his body stiff—and plastic.

The mannequin is also a robot, of sorts, and a fancy ventriloquist’s dummy. As nursing students practiced examining the mannequin as though he were a real human patient, nursing professor Cathy D’Nello watched from a darkened observation chamber, behind mirrored glass. D’Nello wore a headset, with a microphone, playing the role of the patient. An open laptop in front of her allowed her to control the dummy’s pulse, respiration, blood pressure, and pupils.

Solernou (at left in photo), head of Gateway’s nursing program, offered a tour of the new digs. She first stepped into three connected labs, holding 20 “high-fidelity mannequins” of various ages, genders and races. The mannequins are programmed to deliver pre-recorded lines (“I’m having chest pain”) and simulate blood pressure and heart and lung sounds.

The mannequins lie in hospital beds with fully functional “head walls,” equipped with all the inputs and outputs of a regular hospital room.

The lab also has an medical records terminal, and computer workstations on wheels, so that students can practice what has become one of the biggest parts of being a nurse—keeping up with electronic medical records.

Out in the hallway, four nursing students were heading into exam rooms to do neurological tests on some of the new facility’s “highest fidelity” mannequins. Nursing instructor Sue Levine stepped toward a different door, toward the darkened control rooms.

“This is where we do the Wizard of Oz stuff,” she said.

As the students took blood pressure readings and asked the mannequins to read eye-exam charts, Levine pointed out all the controls instructors have. They can change the pulse rate, the blood pressure, “we can make blink the eyes.” Levine interrupted the lesson to show off some other features. “See him having a seizure?” she asked as the patient vibrated in his bed.

Levine said the faculty use the microphone to speak as the patient, but they also use some prerecorded sounds. “We do use the vomit noise, the cough, the moaning in pain.”

The instructors try to make the simulation as real as possible, sometimes dressing up the mannequins or decorating the room to simulate a home visit.

They can even make the mannequins bleed. “We have to fill him with fluid. It’s very messy,” Levine said.

“You should have been here last week,” Levine said. One of the mannequins hemorrhaged while giving birth and went into “OB shock.”

“There was a lot of blood,” she said.

In one of the exam rooms, students were double-checking their blood-pressure readings. The pressure was up to 226/110.

“The blood pressure is high, so they’re doubting themselves,” whispered instructor Joyce Cunneen.

On the other side of the glass, the students continued the examination, learning how to heal real people by practicing on a convincing replica.

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