These mannequins are no dummies.

In fact, the high-fidelity simulators used by the College of Graduate Nursing at Western University of Health Sciences are quite intelligent – able to breathe, blink and react to medications. They allow the college to train Master of Science in Nursing–Entry students to handle real-life situations in a controlled setting.

“You’re working in a safe environment,” said Karen Rique, MSN-E III. “Before going to work with patients, you learn how to speak with patients. You learn how to calm them and better assist them with what they’re going through.”

Students are given scenarios prior to class so they can learn about treatments and medications, giving them the baseline knowledge needed to critically think within the scenario.

“(The simulation) provides a nice nonthreatening learning environment where you really get your skills down,” said Jennifer Adrian, MSN-E III. “It helps you think on your feet.”

The mannequins have a pulse and even talk with the help of a microphone-equipped instructor. An instructor can also change vital signs to replicate a situation students might encounter in a hospital, said Pat Callard, RN, MSN, director of the MSN-E program.

“The mannequin helps them with assessment skills,” she said. “It allows bad things to happen without hurting the patient.”

Students treat the simulation lab as if it was a patient’s room, said Sonja Mack, MSN, RN, assistant professor of nursing and Skills & Simulation Lab coordinator.

“They introduce themselves to the patient and do a full head-to-toe assessment and prioritize based on the information we give them,” she said.

Students are divided into teams, and each person has a role. The scenario might focus on a particular disease process, but everything a student has learned might also come into play.

“If you learned about oxygen three months ago, you need to remember how much oxygen to give a patient and the delivery method,” Mack said. “It’s always an accumulation of everything they learned.”

The college has five high-fidelity simulators and two low-fidelity models, including a birthing simulator. They learn how to insert an IV and catheter and how to calculate medication.

“Every step they would do in a hospital they do here,” Mack said.

Mack will share her knowledge and experience at the 2008 Human Patient Simulation Network (HPSN) Feb. 19-21 in Tampa, Fla. She will present a workshop about incorporating simulated scenarios into delivery of lecture material.

The free, two-and-a-half-day conference is organized by Medical Education Technologies Inc. (METI), based in Sarasota, Fla. METI has sold about 3,000 simulators that are used in 2,000 institutions around the world, said Tess Mitchell, director of marketing for METI.

After learning how a simulator works, instructors must figure out how to best use it in a learning environment.

“The challenge is how to integrate it into the curriculum,” Mitchell said. “There’s no need to change the curriculum. There is an opportunity to utilize simulation to help drive home the learning.”

The object of HPSN is to bring together educators of all disciplines using simulation to network and to share best practices, Mitchell said.

The international conference had an attendance of 800 last year, and they expect more than 1,000 guests this year, Mitchell said. Mack will lead one of about 135 workshops during the conference.

Using simulators as part of a lecture promotes interactive learning and critical thinking, Mack said. Students must be involved and work as a team, she said.

“The biggest thing I’m going to talk about is the instructor being a facilitator in learning, not a lecturer – being interactive with students and switching from a passive role in lectures,” Mack said.