Simulation Center helps students learn by failing safely

by TYLER YORK // Online Editor

Students may not realize that the Reese Center campus of South Plains College is home to several artificial humans.

The Center for Clinical Excellence, located in Building 1, is known by its students and staff simply as the Simulation Center. It houses many resources for training students who are entering medical fields, including some of the most advanced high-fidelity patient simulators available today. Students from programs such as nursing, emergency medical services, and several other medical professions come to the Simulation Center to train with these technologies in the safest and most realistic environment possible, thanks to the authenticity of both the environment and simulators.

Tanya Ward, clinical simulation coordinator, oversees the daily operation of the Simulation Center. But even with all the responsibilities and technical knowledge required to keep such an advanced training program operating, Ward sees the position from a more gratifying perspective.

“I actually have the best job at South Plains College,” said Ward about her role in the program. “This is really a fun place.”

img_4020Part of that fun for Ward involves the operation of the patient simulators. They are complex, lifelike mannequins that have the ability to mimic a variety of responses, including breathing, bleeding, and even a pupillary light reflex. High-fidelity simulators such as these can be filled with fake blood to practice setting IVs, or fake urine to learn how to set a catheter.

The realism can be further augmented through the use of a technique called “moulage,” which is the term for crafting artificial wounds or injuries to teach students how to treat them. Ward explained the process of setting up the moulage for a lesson, using what the staff calls “the cookbook.” The cookbook, similar in some ways to those found in kitchens, contains recipes for creating various substances to allow the students to experience a convincing version of what Ward describes as “the sights and smells of nursing.”

The CCE is filled with state-of-the-art medical learning resources and skilled instructors, a privilege that is usually reserved for larger institutions such as Texas Tech University.

The simulators at the CCE are the same models as those used in training at TTU. But unlike the TTU labs, students utilizing the SPC Simulation Center have the benefit of not incurring any extra fees for the use of the facility.

img_4106Opening in 2009, the CCE operates as a training environment where students work without any intervention from instructors. This serves the idea that while getting it right in practice is always preferred, students tend to learn best from making mistakes and forming their own connections. Clothes are brought in to put in patient rooms, and rooms can be set up with couches to simulate the feeling of a home visit. In this way, the CCE allows students to receive instruction in near-reality medical treatment conditions, but without the enormous pressure of making a mistake that could harm a living person.

“We let them make mistakes, so that way they can see what happens,” explained Ward. “The instructors do not intervene. Then after the simulation is over with, we process that with them. What did you do well? What did you not do so well?”

This system of instruction and evaluation is designed to allow students to develop logical reasoning skills on the job. Ward describes it as vital to the success of the students once they leave the program.

“You can’t undo the mistakes you make out there,” Ward said. “Here, all I have to do is push a button and that patient comes back to life again.”

The CCE was funded years ago mostly by the Department of Labor’s Community-Based Job Training federal grant, which awarded $1.6 million for the facility to be established. Ward believes this was crucial to the success of the facility. She hopes the community can continue seeing its benefits for years to come.

“We want to make learning fun here,” said Ward. “And we don’t want to be a secret.”

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