Virtual Health Care on Display at Hawkeye

By: Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Date Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WATERLOO, Iowa --- Nursing students Karissa Keppler and Stephanie Smith delivered a baby Tuesday at Hawkeye Community College.

Afterward, their patient, Grace, rested with the baby girl next to her, wrapped tightly in a blanket. The students stood by to monitor the new mother's condition.

"She had a normal delivery," Keppler said. The birth was unusual in one regard, though: Both Grace and the baby are simulated patients. They weren't the only ones, either.

Mother and child were surrounded by a roomful of mannequin-like "patients" lying in hospital beds hooked up to IV and oxygen tubes. They included infants, children, adults and elderly people. Each was programmed with different ailments and conditions in a control room behind a mirrored window at one end of the room.

Hawkeye held an open house to show off its new virtual hospital, located in the lower level of Grundy Hall, and its 21 patient simulators. The simulators range from the highly programmable full-body models to other torso and head models used only for specific training purposes.

"We can literally do simulations across the lifespan," said Tracy Elliott, a Hawkeye instructor and the virtual hospital coordinator. "The beauty of it is our students get to practice real-life situations in a safe environment."

The hospital simulation was created as part of a $206,000 remodeling project approved by Hawkeye Community College's board of trustees in June 2011. Students in all of Hawkeye's health programs began using the facility earlier this fall. That includes nursing; respiratory, physical and occupational therapy; medical lab technicians; and dental assisting and hygiene.

Outside of the virtual hospital room, less sophisticated simulated patients lay in beds set up in other class spaces. Students practiced skills like dressing an abdominal wound, suctioning fluid out of a tracheotomy or performing CPR. Some used a program to prepare a virtual arm on a computer screen before sticking an intravenous needle into a device containing a simulated vein.

The high-fidelity simulators act and sound like patients, from their coughing to their labored breathing. The patients also speak and react in other ways to the students practicing newly learned skills on them.

Felicia Waters, a respiratory care program student, was working to get a tube into the trachea of a simulated newborn baby having trouble breathing. She used a tool called a laryngoscope to hold open the baby's mouth while inching the tube toward the small passageway in the throat. After attaching a rubber squeeze pump and bag to the tube, she could see air was getting the lungs as the baby's chest moved up and down.

"Doctors do this, but we're also trained to do it," Waters said. Once the procedure was complete, she watched a computer monitor showing vital signs to ensure the child's heart rate stayed in the appropriate range.

While the clinical training received at area hospitals as part of some students' education offers certain experiences, it doesn't typically provide the full range of possibilities.

"A lot of people don't get to see a real birth," said Keppler, before they've gotten their first job as a registered nurse. Such simulated experiences will make it "a little bit more comfortable situation" when she begins working after earning her associate degree in December.

"It's definitely good that Hawkeye has this," said Keppler. "I'm really jealous of the upcoming students that have this longer."

Thumbnail photo by Matthew Putney, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.