He’s no dummy
Sophisticated patient simulator wows crowd
at Nursing School
by Peggy Harrison
School of Nursing held an open house Feb. 2 to show off its
latest high-tech teaching tool, “SimMan,” whose
conditions can be manipulated by computer. Here, professor
Reba Childress (left) and graduate student Margie Blevins
check SimMan’s blood pressure and heart beat.
By Dan Heuchert
Reba Moyer Childress finally
got her man … -nequin.
director of the U.Va. School
of Nursing’s Laboratories for Clinical Learning, first
came across the SimMan patient simulator more than two years ago
at a clinical simulation conference in San Antonio, Texas, and
it was love at first sight. “I’ve been coveting him
ever since,” she said.
For two years, she scraped together nickels and dimes. Finally,
word came last fall that she would receive grant money from the
University’s Equipment Trust Fund to make the $44,450 purchase.
SimMan — and a few suitcases worth of high-tech baggage
— arrived over the semester break and moved into the Theresa
A. Thomas Intensive Care Simulation Laboratory in McLeod Hall.
Though there are more than 750 SimMan simulators in use worldwide,
U.Va.’s model is believed to be among the first purchased
by a Virginia public institution for use by both undergraduate
and graduate nursing students.
The mannequin — which actually can be adapted to be either
male or female — certainly stands out in the crowd of simulators
(including three full-length models and several other “parts”)
in the beds around it, most of which date back to the lab’s
opening in 1995. SimMan may be a mannequin, but he’s no
He’s sophisticated, powered by a Dell laptop computer and
an air compressor that provides remarkably life-like breathing.
He’s a great communicator, with an array of pre-programmed
vocalisms (“My chest hurts, and I can’t breathe”)
and the capability to record an unlimited number of customized
phrases. And he lets you know how he feels in other ways, too;
he can be hooked up to a touch-screen patient monitor, and nursing
students can check his carotid, radial and femoral pulses and
listen to realistic heart, breathing and bowel sounds. He can
take a lot of abuse, with ports for IV hook-ups and defibrillators,
plus anatomically correct parts for chest tube insertions and
He is, however, fairly sickly. He is prone to cardiac and pulmonary
problems. Faculty programmers can cook up any number of patient-care
scenarios on the laptop to be played out by students at the bedside.
He can simulate a wide variety of symptoms — his handheld
remote control has buttons for “cough, “moan”
and “vomit,” and he can develop lockjaw or a swollen
tongue at the stroke of a key, making intubations much more difficult.
“He does bite,” warned Joe Huse, a medical education
specialist with SimMan’s manufacturer, Laerdal Corp., at
a recent open house for Nursing School faculty, staff and students.
Childress and Huse eagerly showed off SimMan’s capabilities
to an ever-shifting crowd of curious colleagues. His chest rose
and fell with labored breathing as the heart-rate monitor beeped
at varying paces. He coughed and moaned, complaining, “I’m
Most visitors seemed content to keep their distance, despite Childress’
urging to try some hands-on nursing. Finally, a brave soul approached,
stethoscope in hand.
“Go away!” an irritable SimMan ordered, obviously
wary of being poked and prodded.
Soon, Childress had a few visitors responding to a pre-programmed
crisis. His heart rate was up, but his oxygen levels were falling.
Nurses made suggestions for altering his care, and the responses
caused changes in his symptoms.
That’s the attraction of SimMan, Childress said. “It
doesn’t just teach individual skills. When you look at the
basic acquisition of clinical skills, there’s generally
a mannequin for this and a mannequin for that. The whole point
of SimMan is to provide an integrated experience. It’s very
holistic, especially in light of the fact that you can communicate
“He’s not one-task oriented. You’re not just
performing skills, but employing critical thinking.”
SimMan’s effectiveness in educating registered nurses will
be tracked in a three-year, multi-site study being sponsored by
the National League for Nursing and by Laerdal. U.Va. was selected
as one of eight sites (from a field of 156) to participate. Childress
has already written a cardiac-crisis scenario for her second-year
nursing students to tackle as part of the study. She can videotape
their responses and gather the data generated by their efforts
for later review.
At the open house, the would-be lifesavers, distracted by more
demonstrations of SimMan’s capabilities, neglected his care
and he flat-lined, only to be revived with a few clicks of a mouse.
New arrivals marveled at his features. “He’s got bowel
sounds?” a professor asked admiringly.
As the crowd dwindled, two more adventuresome souls tackled the
pre-programmed scenario. They upped the oxygen being fed through
his nose, and his vital signs stabilized.
“Thanks nurse. You saved my life,” he said, in a voice
that sounded suspiciously like Huse’s.
What a charmer.