MU School of Medicine takes real-life simulators on the road to help rural Missourians

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri School of Medicine is using mobile simulators to replicate medical emergencies for rural trainees, as 10 of the state’s rural hospitals have closed their doors since 2014.

The university’s Russell D. and Mary B. Shelden Clinical Simulation Center sends its life-like simulators on the road inside 38-foot traveling units, where special instructors use them to conduct training for critical access hospitals, fire and rescue, EMS, nurses, physicians, EMT’s and first responders.

“The University of Missouri wanted to go out and be able to do outreach to these outlying areas in the rural communities to bring better access to higher-quality training equipment,” said Dena Higbee, Missouri School of Medicine executive director.

The RVs hold enough space for two rooms where trainees can experience emergency situations involving infants, pediatrics and adults. Higbee says the simulators replicate physiological changes in the human body such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and heart, lung and abdominal sounds. The machines also can mimic cardiac irregularities that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, as well as respiratory issues such as asthma or COPD. 

Some students will even experience a simulated childbirth. 

“We can also do things along the line of pediatric and infant care,” Higbee said. “So, for infant resuscitation, if you have an infant that is born and does not have a strong heartbeat or is having respiratory failure, you can do resuscitation on that simulator and do breathing techniques and cardiac compressions to try to bring back that patient.”

The simulators come in all “ages,” from premature babies to newborn babies, small children, adult males and adult females. Some of the units have voice capabilities and use a behind-the-scenes operator to have the simulators respond to trainees. The simulators may ask trainees such questions as, “What are you getting ready to stick me with,” or “What are you doing next?” In other scenarios the simulators might lie unresponsive. 

“It can be emotional for them,” Higbee says, “as they are responding just like they would with a real patient. Our whole goal with simulation is to make it as real to life as possible.”

The simulators respond accordingly to proper treatments such as chest compressions and ventilations, and students are able to see the results on a screen. 

Higbee tells The Heartlander there is a current grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration that will pay for 20 trainings to be conducted in Missouri this fiscal year. The university has chosen to focus on mid- and northern Missouri for now. 

“It is open to any of those entities that have the time and space for training,” she says. “We provide the truck, the resources and an educator. We try to work with the educators at these facilities to let them identify what other training needs (there are). We will help them develop a scenario, and their educators can then help give briefing and feedback to their learners while we’re on site.”

Higbee says the feedback from trainees is overly positive .

“We often hear, ‘This will change the way that I do future care because I’ve been able to experience what my interactions did for the care of that patient.’ The more you do it, the more you become comfortable with it.”

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