Life-like dummies help future nurses prepare

Nursing students check vital signs on a mannequin in Stafford Hall. Photo by Tim Brosnan. 

If you go to school at Castleton University, there is a good chance you didn’t know of a certain state-of-the-art facility we have here on campus.

Unless you are a nursing major, you probably weren’t aware that Stafford Academic Center is home to the nursing program’s very own Simulation Center, essentially a wing of a hospital.

“I’ve been going to school here for three years and I had no idea that the center was there,” said business major Myles Cassin-Reed. “I’ve had classes in Stafford every year and I have never seen it.”

The center is upstairs in Stafford, and it is set up to mimic an actual hospital environment. It consists of several ‘nursing mannequins’ in hospital beds, and all are hooked up to various machines and IV’s.

“The center is designed to help students think like a nurse,” said the Director of the Simulation Center, Marie McDuff. “With these mannequins, a student can actually take a blood pressure, they can feel a pulse, listen to the apical pulse with their stethoscope, and they can listen to normal and abnormal lung and bowel sounds.”

But the possibilities don’t end there. Students can even administer fake IV medications, and learn to do barcoding, which is the process of reading a patient’s ID bracelet in order to access their electronic health and medication records. This way a nurse can make sure that their patients are receiving the correct drugs.

Many colleges have simulation centers of their own, about 80 percent by McDuff’s estimation. But the quality of these centers and mannequins vary. Castleton has “medium-fidelity” mannequins that can moan in discomfort, respond verbally, and make throwing up noises.

They also cost around $80,000 less than the “high-fidelity” mannequins. The pricier ones can talk more, sweat, and can even change skin color. But according to McDuff, this difference doesn’t matter much because you can do just about everything on the “medium-fidelity” mannequins to develop a good grasp on basic nursing skills.

“It absolutely gives students an edge,” McDuff said. “It provides them with hands-on psychomotor skills that they can translate to real-life setting in the future.”

Right now, students in the center are focused on childbearing. On Monday, students were performing physicals assessments, with the mannequins acting as post-partum mothers. Seniors Kelly St. Marie and Noelle Bencivego were working on palpating the fundus, or uterus, of the “mother” to make sure it is firm, and also to prevent excessive bleeding.

“Sally, I’m going to feel your fundus and then you can feel it after,” said Bencivego to the mannequin as she performed her exam.

While this center may not be common knowledge to everybody here at Castleton, it is no secret that it gives these nursing students a definite advantage going forward with their respective careers.

“It definitely helps us to practice things like taking vital signs and do physical assessments in the simulation center before we enter a clinical setting,” said senior nursing major, Emily Chase. “If today was my first day on the job, I would feel comfortable knowing that, for the most part, I already have the hang of things.”

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