St. Clair College's Nursing and Paramedic programs got a technological boost earlier this year with the opening of two new simulation labs, thanks to funding from the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Nearly $450,000 was given to St. Clair's Windsor and Chatham Campuses in early 2005 for the purchase of simulation equipment. The college kicked in another $25,000 to cover lab-renovations and installation costs. It took almost a year to complete the labs and set up the equipment.
Over 300 students in the college's Health Sciences programs are benefitting from learning on realistic, life-sized, computerized SimMan and SimBaby "patients".
The Windsor Campus has two of each of the fully-automated mannequins, while the Chatham's Thames Campus has one of each. At approximately $40,000 a piece, they can be programmed to exhibit any of a number of health problems or complications.
Nursing Professor Stacey Sheets says the college's "Sim Labs" prepare students to better handle real patients. "Working with SimMan and SimBaby teaches students to critically think, which is a major part of nursing," she said.
"In four years, a student may never encounter a patient with chest pains. Here, students work through scenarios in a controlled environment, and they can learn from their mistakes - without devastating consequences."
Although most of Ontario's nursing schools are now equipped with simulation mannequins, St. Clair's labs are attached to a specially designed control room. There, professors can watch students' performances through a one-way mirror. A microphone installed by the college's Media Department allows professors to talk through SimMan, giving students a unique opportunity to learn to communicate with patients.
"The whole idea of training in the simulation labs is to get the student at a level of comfort and confidence before they go into the hospital," said Sheets. "It's a wonderful learning opportunity."
St. Clair College joins nursing schools throughout the province which have benefitted from the first of two, $10 million injections of government funding. A. G. Klei, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, said the investment in clinical simulation equipment will help Nursing students be better prepared for their future work.
"It's important that we invest in a healthy future for Ontario, and that starts with providing a complete, quality education for those who will become our future doctors and nurses," said Klei. "These simulators are used to teach basic clinical and patient assessment skills, and allow students to practice procedures, and receive immediate feedback on their performance."
Laerdal Medical is the international company behind the technology of SimMan and SimBaby, and has been responsible for supplying simulation equipment to the province's colleges and universities.
"SimMan was the first 'high-tech' product we launched five years ago. SimBaby is more recent, having come out in the past 18 months," said Scott Spearn, Laerdal Canada's Vice-President and General Manager.
"The advantage to simulation is that you can practice something over and over again that you may only see rarely in the field. Students can become proficient at something that they may only ever see occasionally."
Third-year Collaborative Nursing student Belinda Leaman got to test what she learned during a mock "Code Blue" with SimMan. The day after the simulation exercise, she witnessed a real Code Blue in her hospital placement.
"I was amazed to watch the situation unfold before my eyes," said Leaman, 31. "It's an experience I'll never forget. Everything that we did in the Sim Lab was exactly what they did in the hospital. SimMan is the best teaching tool I've ever had the opportunity to use."