Universities are big places, comparable to schools but actually, so different. You can complete an entire degree knowing little else about the campus and its daily activities, I certainly did. You can also complete a degree at a parallel time as another student but fail to ever meet them. The thing that comes to mind for comparison is a train, you can enter one carriage, and have no idea what is happening or who else is travelling on another carriage, before you depart into the world. That’s why Teche blog is great for uncovering the amazing ‘happenings’ at Macquarie.
It was my colleague Nathan, who ‘uncovered’ Chris Munday and the ‘crying dummies’ in F10A. Chris is a simulation coordinator here at Macquarie. Trained as a nurse, Chris made the pedagogy switch while living in Saudi Arabia. His first foray into education involved training medics for the army, medics who spoke little to no English, but that didn’t turn him off and he has been involved in health care education ever since. Chris’s own training in healthcare was pre simulation dummies and students would practice on each other, “We would take blood from each other, we would put tubes down into each other’s stomach,” he says.
Nowadays, for obvious reasons, practicing on one another doesn’t cut . And so enters the ‘crying dummies ’. At $80 000 a pop, these things aren’t cheap, but I don’t know many who would volunteer an arm for a student administered IV drip, or a tube into your stomach for that matter.
Macquarie is home to many crying dummies, or accurately, task trainer mannequins, one in particular answers to SIM MAN 3G. Chris can control Sim Man 3G’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory system, even the oxygen content in his blood. For all that he comes with the $80 000 price tag, but upon meeting SIM MAN 3G I could (almost) understand why. He is frighteningly real. He breathes, he blinks, his pupils dilate and you can overdose him, although this is something Chris does not recommend. “Students might give somebody too much sedation, you might over sedate somebody, and so their breathing might slow down, their heart rate might go up, their levels of oxygen might drop dramatically and they might even go into a cardiorespiratory arrest but there’s nothing really to be gained by killing the mannequin,” he says. I sense SIM MAN 3G is grateful for his sentiment.
Task trainer mannequins assist students with basic health care tasks before going into the workplace and administering these things for real. “It’s about giving people the opportunity to practice and experience a procedural skill, a technical skill on an artificial arm, then move onto a real person… these days you shouldn’t see somebody going into a clinical setting and trying to take blood from a real person before they have had the opportunity to practice on a [task trainer] arm,” Munday says. And yes, that’s right, you can take blood from SIM MAN 3G. “They have a vein, an arm that has a bag full of artificial blood attached to it, and you pressurise the bag, which fills the veins with blood and then people practice taking blood from an artificial arm”.
Simulation training started in aviation in the early 1900’s and while health care simulation has evolved into quite ‘technologically advanced models’ in the last twenty years, it has been said that ancient cultures made clay representations of the human body to demonstrate the effect disease has on humans. These days the student learning capabilities stretch beyond knowledge of the effect on the patient. Not only will the student learn how to administer an IV, a catheter or tube through the stomach, they will also learn what Chris describes as the non-technical skills, “Typically the team work and communication skills, they are really important in health care, not just what they do and what they give, but how they communicate and work as a team, the complex decision making that goes wrong in an emergency, that is what causes the unnecessary harm,” he says.
To ensure students learn both the technical and non-technical skills, Chris ensures his students are well aware of the learning outcomes before they enter the setting, “We have very clear learning outcomes, we try and create a psychologically safe environment so that people know they’re not going to be laughed at or criticised, this is intended to be a constructive learning experience and by going through will help them become more confident, safer and more effective as clinicians.”.
Obviously, as with all learning outcomes, to go on to a real person, a student must ‘pass’ the simulation test first, “It wouldn’t be fair to the student and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to the patients, if you let somebody who hadn’t achieved a standard of knowledge and skills to let them out into the system,” Munday says. After my chat with Chris, I got thinking about Doctors and nurses and how they learn procedures on the job, as we touched on this briefly, “Certain things can’t really be simulated, like the removal of someone’s appendix or open heart surgery,” he says.
My sister has just moved in with a doctor, who although fully qualified, with his fair share of simulation training, is still in the process of learning on the job, a procedure called thoracotomy, something he is finding extremely difficult. “Look it up on Youtube!” my sister insisted, to which I did… Only to switch it off seconds later. If you’re game, look at it here and pray that one day we have ‘thoracotomy’ simulation dummies, but for now I suppose we can be grateful with what we’ve got.