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Norwalk Community College's Nursing Program Mimics Real Hospitals

Cathleen Caufield prepares to perform a simulated childbirth on one of Norwalk Community College's teaching mannequins. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue
Nursing student Victoria Flagg remotely controls the birthing mannequin to simulate realistic human reactions that a patient would experience during childbirth. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue
Norwalk Community College's simulation mannequins mimic a variety of human processes, and are kept in a realistic hospital wing with functioning equipment. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

NORWALK, Conn. -- Mistakes in the health care field can be dangerous -- and even fatal. But students in the Nursing and Allied Health Program at Norwalk Community College get a chance to practice medical skills on lifelike mannequins before trying them out on real patients.

The simulation program has re-created a hospital wing with six beds set up with full hospital equipment. The program has 13 mannequins that can display almost any type of medical symptom, allowing students the chance to work on a realistic patient that responds to their treatments.

"They sweat, they blink, their pupils contract and dilate. They talk, one of them gives birth. They can mimic almost any human process," said Cathleen Caufield, simulation coordinator. "It's a fabulous learning tool."

The program has been in existence for about four years. This past May, the school acquired Victoria, a mannequin that gives birth. In addition to a standard birth, it can also simulate a number of other situations, including a Caesarean section.

The mannequins also react to medications that the students give them, and can mimic common complications that patients experience while staying in a hospital, such as infections or pressure ulcers.

"It's a bridge between the classroom and the clinical arena," Caufield said. Students can realistically experience what happens when they give a patient the wrong type of medication, without risking an actual person's safety. "Students are free to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes."

Caufield said the concept of simulation began with aviation, allowing pilots to safely experience what flying a plane is like without the danger. It has grown more important in the medical field as technology has improved. In addition to teaching students about medical conditions, it also helps them learn about working in a hospital setting, as it helps them with skills such as teamwork and treating multiple patients at once.

"Hospitals are using simulation to make decisions on who they want to hire," Caufield said.

The mock hospital wing is also equipped with cameras, allowing them to stream video of the the mannequins' treatment to classrooms of students. Caufield said doctors from Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford Hospitals have used the equipment in their continuing education. She said she would like to continue having community organizations partner with the program for education purposes.

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