Treat the ‘patient’

TEACHING / Students learn while they play

With the help of one high-tech computer program and two lifelike mannequin "patients," students at the School of Medicine are getting some truly valuable hands-on experience.

It's a revolutionary training tool that figures to pay dividends—both for the students and the patients they'll one day have—in years to come.

"Sometimes all students really get to do is watch," says Andrew Kofke, a professor of anesthesiology, critical care and neurosurgery and director of the new Measey Simulation Suite at SOM. "But in this simulation, they don't watch. They're actually doing. They're making decisions."

The Measey Simulation Suite is an advanced teaching facility that features two lifelike mannequin "patients." The patients are connected to a computer that recreates real-life situations and allows Penn medical students to "treat" numerous illnesses and health issues. The Measey mannequin patients are so lifelike that they show actual symptoms—anything from breathing difficulty to shock—and, using a microphone operated by a suite instructor, can even "talk" to the students.

In an era where students are familiar with virtual reality and adept at playing video games that simulate real-life situations, says Kofke, "we might as well use that same kind of thing for teaching as far as we can."

The Measey facility covers 800 square feet of workspace and includes three simulation suites, a control room, a debriefing room, a training area and administrative offices. The suite, say Penn Medicine officials, is intended to bridge the gap between watching and doing. And it does that in a way that traditional teaching methods can't: Besides helping students learn how to diagnose and treat actual medical issues, the Measey program also helps students work on their bedside manner.

"When the student is in the room … the mannequin in there breathing—the chest will actually go up and down," Kofke says. "If the patient is not asleep, they'll actually talk with the student, either through preprepared messages or by the instructor talking in the mic. There can actually be a conversation ... The students generally love it. It's a form of adult play. And believe it or not, whenever we're playing, we're learning."