Local News

Computerized 'Patient' Lets Nursing Students Learn From Mistakes

Posted December 19, 2003

— Most people can say they learn from their mistakes, but in the field of nursing, mistakes can be deadly. For some nursing students, making mistakes can be harmless.

At North Carolina Central University's School of Nursing, instructors are excited about a new teaching tool -- a human patient simulator, which is actually four patients in one.

The computerized patient, named Stan, is lifelike. Mannequins have been used in the past to practice nursing skills, but they require a lot of imagination.

[Mannequins] are really inanimate objects. This I don't consider to be an inanimate object, because it's so realistic," said Ed Allen, a nursing instructor at N.C. Central.

Computerized patient simulators are not necessarily new, but each year brings new advances that give students a more realistic experience.

Stan has 12 pulses -- his chest rises and falls.

"He changes his pupils with the light reflex," said an instructor.

Stan responds to simulated drug injections with changes to his blood pressure and even comes with an identity crisis.

With a few equipment modifications, Stan becomes Ann.

"We can actually simulate some conditions in pregnancy," said Dr. Betty Dennis, N.C. Central nursing chairwoman.

Stan and Ann can also become a child, named Chuck or Kathy. The simulator comes with 30 patient scenarios.

"They learn from their mistakes. So I'd rather have them make a mistake on the simulator than have it be a real patient," said Laurie Shumacher, patient simulator instructor.

Stan is real enough to help students learn how to save lives.

"What you learn today has to stay with you for the rest of your professional life," Allen said.

Less than two years ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Nursing was only the second school in the country to have a human patient simulator like Stan.


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