U advances its medical programs

Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

University Medical School Dean Deborah Powell remembers the first time she met SimMan, a computerized mannequin that can mimic certain health problems and allows medical students to insert needles or take blood pressure for the first time on something other than a human.

SimMan, she said, reacted like a normal person.

“His blood pressure was dropping and he had chest pain,” Powell said of her first encounter with SimMan at a conference last summer. “They called up several deans to save this patient. I think they killed him. But it was not us (University deans).”

Now the University has its own SimMan for students to use. The mannequin is one way the University’s Academic Health Center is attempting to change the way it teaches medicine, University officials said.

Academic Health Center officials said they want to start hands-on training earlier in students’ education, increase interaction between medical and nursing students, and extend the use of the latest medical technology. Officials said this new model of medical education will better prepare students for the real world.

Some of these initiatives are already under way, while others are still being worked out, Powell said. The health center has considered the idea for a few years now, she said.

Further entwining medical students with Minnesota communities will also strengthen the Academic Health Center’s educational model, which currently trains approximately 70 percent of Minnesota’s health-care professionals, officials said.

Medical schools throughout the country are altering their curriculums to include more hands-on experience, teamwork and technology, said Elaine Rubin, vice president for program and communications for the Association of Academic Health Centers, a nonprofit organization the University is a part of.

The Academic Health Center, which includes the nursing, pharmacy and medical schools, makes it easier for first- and second-year students to interact with one another early in their education, Rubin said.

“It helps rather than having a nursing school at a different college,” Rubin said. “It is wonderful that they are able to do that.”

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists work together in the real world, Powell said, and their educations should reflect that.

“The first time a medical student meets a nurse or nursing students is in rotation during the third year,” she said. “If we can get these students paired up during their early years, they can have a better understanding of what skills each person brings.”

Video-game education

Coupled with this team-based approach to education, Powell said, simulated labs and virtual reality programs will help students gain practical experience before facing hospital patients.

The Academic Health Center’s clinical skills lab, completed approximately one year ago, allows students of nursing and medicine to work together with actors portraying certain symptoms, Powell said. The exam rooms are videotaped and faculty can watch and critique student techniques.

“If students are educated in simulated labs, when they go to clinical third year, they won’t have to spend time learning to interview,” she said.

In the labs, students can also learn how to draw blood, insert catheters and do standard medical techniques using SimMan and virtual reality techniques.

Powell said students used to practice on one another when she went to school.

Using virtual reality programs similar to video games to teach emergency-room work and surgery practices will educate students without causing patients or students harm, she said.

“We have a generation coming to medical school that grew up on video games,” Powell said. “You could have a surgeon who practices these procedures on a video game.”

While an initial investment was required to build the facility, Powell said the Academic Health Center will save money in the long run because many schools will be able to use the facility and new technology.

“It’s cheaper than any of the (Academic Health Center) schools trying to do it themselves,” she said.

Powell said lectures and textbooks with traditional medical school education are still essential. State licensing exams still require this knowledge, she said.

“We want to do these new things, but we can’t do away with books and lectures,” she said.

Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center senior vice president, said the new model of medical education will require additional partnerships with Minnesota communities to help students learn and serve communities in need.

Expanding distance education programs, such as training medical students to practice in underserved rural communities, will also play a larger role in the Academic Health Center’s educational process, he said.

Powell said this new course in medical education will help Minnesotans and the people who will one day treat their medical maladies.