High-tech mannequin puts Roseman University students to the test in hospital situations

Nursing students John Ho and Jessica Patterson tend to Sim Mom who is feeling nauseous during a patient simulation lab with mannequins in the nursing program at Roseman University on Thursday, September 18, 2014. L.E. Baskow.

“This is the worst headache I’ve ever had,” a pregnant patient complains as she lies in a mock hospital room at Roseman University in Henderson.

The mom-to-be has come to seek treatment from the school’s student nurses, donating her time to be something of a guinea pig for the future health care professionals. The potential risks she faces by avoiding an actual hospital aren’t great, however, because this patient is a mannequin.

Known to students and faculty as “Sim-mom,” the mannequin can birth a baby, bleed, suffer a seizure, vomit and groan, among other things.

She’s there for practice — students work with Sim-mom and a sim-baby — to help them prepare for real-world clinical situations.

“It’s almost like a real person,” student Jessica Patterson said. “Using the mannequin is as close to getting and seeing real situations as we can in lab.”

Nursing Program at Roseman University

Nursing students John Ho and Jessica Patterson gather medications for Sim Mom during a patient simulation lab with mannequins in the nursing program at Roseman University on Thursday, September 18, 2014.  L.E. Baskow. Launch slideshow »

Patterson, 24, is among the students in Roseman’s accelerated bachelor of nursing program. The 113 students in the program are on a fast track to getting their degrees — they’ll graduate after just 15 months of study.

Roseman began the accelerated program in 2010, and it admits 40 students three times a year. More than 130 have graduated so far.

Josh Hamilton, Roseman’s interim associate dean, said a primary goal is to help address Nevada’s dismal national ranking in number of registered nurses.

“Nevada ranks (49th) in the nation for the number of RN’s per 100,000 residents,” he said. The Silver State has about 725 RNs per 100,00 people, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Only Hawaii and Idaho produce fewer per capita. The U.S. average is 921 per 100,000.

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Back in the simulated hospital room, nursing students are about to be plunged into emergency mode. They’re in the maternal/newborn unit, and their professors have real-life lessons planned for them.

Makeup and props help make each faux emergency as realistic as possible. Sometimes, Sim-mom’s tan skin takes on a light blue hue as instructors prepare students to treat her for inadequate oxygen intake. Other times, her bed sheet is stained with cherry pie filling to simulate blood clots.

For now, Sim-mom remains in stable condition. Her chest rises and falls as she “breathes.” Two by two, students enter the room and quickly get to work, checking the patient’s vital signs, asking questions and relaying information to an instructor.

“My head hurts,” a professor whines into a microphone, reading from a script. A tech manager works the computer that controls the mannequin. Instructors watch the students’ reactions through a one-way mirror.

When the patient begins to throw up, students rush to her side and raise her bed. One grabs a pan and a suction to remove the “vomit” from her mouth.

The situation isn’t dire enough.

“Put her in a seizure,” a professor tells the tech manager.

As the two students huddle in the corner to share information with the instructor, Sim-mom begins convulsing, catching her caretakers off-guard. Once the students give her the proper “medications,” her condition stabilizes.

“Scenario over,” the professor announces through the microphone.

It was a hectic 25 minutes, but the students’ faces now look relieved.

“This is where the learning occurs,” assistant professor Dr. Brian Oxhorn said. “The students have the opportunity to watch the scenario again and receive constructive criticism and participate in open discussions.”

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Students in the accelerated nursing program do not receive letter grades, Hamilton said, citing studies that show the stress of a weighted letter grade in a simulation lab setting doesn’t achieve the best results. In addition to the lab, students have classroom instruction and work in clinical settings at local medical facilities.

Though the lab can be stressful, instructors try to emphasize learning in as close to real-life settings as possible.

“There’s no right or wrong,” Oxhorn said. “It’s all about what you did, what you didn’t do and what you learned.”

It is this rigorous preparation that Hamilton said makes Roseman graduates highly employable. He noted that students graduate with knowledge of finances and health policy.

All classes are pass or fail, which promotes what Hamilton calls “mastery” as opposed to allowing students to simply memorize whatever information is needed for the course.

Roseman boasts a 99 percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

The real-life applicability of the lab is what Patterson likes most about the program. She says she has witnessed familiar simulation lab scenarios at MountainView Hospital, where she completes clinical hours.

“Everything I learned in lab usually starts coming in,” she said.

Like many Roseman students, Patterson comes from California, where applications to nursing schools are backlogged. Hopeful students there can linger on admissions waiting lists for up to two years.

Hamilton said the influx of out-of-state students is a good thing for Nevada’s health care system. Many graduates permanently relocate here.

“Part of the reason why I came to Roseman was because they were the first to accept me,” said Patterson, who is from Martinez, Calif., and would consider staying in Nevada after graduation if the right job offer came along.

But before she can graduate and find work in a medical setting, Patterson must achieve the mastery that Hamilton described as the intent of Roseman’s program. The only way to succeed in such a rigorous setting is to study — a lot.

“I take my study materials pretty much everywhere I go,” Patterson said. “I sometimes even take my books, note cards or notes with me to the bathroom and even into the kitchen while I’m cooking my meals.”