- Special Reports
Nursing students Kristen Pope and Autumn Jamieson of Prince George’s Community College detected high blood pressure from their simulated patient just before tears shed from the mannequin’s glassy eyes.
Pope and Jamieson are not alone in using cutting-edge technology, like simulated mannequins, as several of the nation’s community colleges are building “state of the art” infrastructures to enhance allied health programs, a category that includes everything from dental to physical therapy to medicine.
Allied health programs are transforming into technologically based practices, especially since most health care employers are limiting job consideration to individuals with some sort of technological foundation. The labor market’s new technology requirements, coupled with the 35 percent projected job growth, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, became the motivation for many community colleges to build more modern buildings sprinkled with technological features.
Angela Anderson, dean of the division of Health Sciences at PGCC, explains that the school’s new $43 million Center for Health Studies was an effort to accommodate the growing number of STEM students while also incorporating modern technologies used in science-related fields.
“Since nursing and health fields in general are among the fastest growing jobs, we really wanted this building to help make room for more health science students,” says Anderson.
The new health science center, located in Largo, Md., offers the most updated technological resources to its students in order to create better competency levels among the curriculum. Its nursing lab, for example, includes transparent mirrors where professors observe students from behind a tinted mirror during diagnosis trials. In addition, medical and nursing students have access to diagnostic medical sonography and surgical equipment, similar to those used in local Prince George’s County hospital facilities.
Like the nursing program, PGCC’s new center accommodates a technologically centered paramedics program. Built as an authentic paramedic’s station, the center includes an on-location apartment and an ambulance model for students to participate in real, modern examples of emergency medical situations. According to Andrew Bluestein, retired paramedic and professor of allied health at PGCC, students dress simulated, mannequin patients, perform recovery for cardiac arrest and ventilate patients on the ambulance bed. Oftentimes, Bluestein directs his students to perform recovery for a patient who suffered from cardiac arrest in the bathroom of the center’s apartment.
“Since about 45 percent of cardiac arrests happen when the patients are on the toilets and using the bathroom, I want them to mentally prepare for real-life scenarios,” says Bluestein.
“To do skills in the classroom is one thing, but in cramped quarters, [it] really puts students under pressure to perform, like they one day have to face,” adds Bluestein.
The sense of reality, which Bluestein refers to, is also applied in the radiography department, where students are equipped with the center’s computer radiography and digital room. Radiography students, like nursing students, rely on simulated mannequins, often referred to as “dummies,” to capture instantaneous results of scanned body images for purposes of a patient’s diagnosis.
First-year radiography student Samantha Kingman explains, “Sometimes, we get tasked to figure out the actual story behind the bullet wound of the dummies; that includes information beyond how the wound punctured the patient, but also where the patient was when the fracture occurred.”
The college’s reliance on technology in its health sciences program has progressed far beyond Maryland. In New Mexico, the Clovis Community College recently opened its new tech building for its allied health programs. Featuring more than 10 projector screens and mobile workstations, the new Sisler Allied Health Building has become a part of the state’s larger project to increase the number of nurses and health science students in its local workforce.
Funded by President Obama’s administration, which expands job training for local workforces at community colleges through several grants, Clovis Community College’s new allied health building focuses on three main programs: nursing, radiography and emergency management services. The building features a nursing lab that hosts several of its simulation mannequins, an emergency medical technician lab and a CPR lab.
“We’re really excited to have a new simulation center and its nursing station,” says Shawna McGill, division chair of the Clovis Community College’s allied health program. “It actually looks like an intensive care unit that houses our simulation mannequins for our students.”
For both its radiography and EMS students, the school’s new tech building has an authentic radiology and practice lab that offers training to emulate the field’s real practices used within a 100-mile radius, according to McGill. The building also uses larger windows and relies on natural light to preserve electric usage and to promote more natural energy.
Clovis Community College’s use of a natural-energy building is slight if compared to Massachusetts’s North Shore Community College, which recently opened a $31 million Zero Net Energy Building specifically for health and science professions. Touted as the community’s newest green building that meets LEED Gold Certification, the zero net building is built to be optimally efficient over the course of each year. North Shore Community College President Wayne Burton stresses that the school’s new building was an effort to create a more “sustainable” community and to relay the sustainability as interdisciplinary for each field.
According to Burton, the green campus functions as a “real-life laboratory.” Since the green design is integrated into each course curriculum, course requirements are influencing the structure of each course. For example, environmental students are responsible for tracking and analyzing the building’s attempt at being “energy efficient” as one of their final projects.
Course designs tailored to the new green building are not just apparent within the environmental science department. The respiratory care program has also intertwined major components of the green design with its use of high tech labs that use sensors to communicate with computer equipment in powering on and off. For animal science majors, the community college’s new building installed a “vet tech lab,” which incorporates a surgical suite to train prospective veterinarians. The nursing lab uses similar technology as the building holds wired cameras that track nurse activity, which several local hospitals require.
Technologically based learning tools are largely used in several health science fields, especially within the nursing practice. According to Odessa Battle, a community health nurse for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, technology such as simulated patients, or mannequins, is best used in nursing programs when the mannequin can portray the most realistic human-like characteristics. As technology advances, simulated tools, like mannequins, become more closely reflective of “real-life” practices and, ultimately, help to better prepare health science and nursing students.
“In the nursing field, you can’t control your patient, and you never really know who’s going to come in and what problems they’ve endured,” explains Battle. “That’s why technology — especially modern technology — in nursing fields is essential to preparing you for the unexpected future.”
Not only are newer technologies used to prepare prospective nursing students, but digital advancements have avoided risky human error in the actual field. In clinics like those covered under Montgomery County Health and Human Services, nurses have switched to mobile workstations, computer monitors that track biographical data on each patient.
“Newer technologies and practices are constantly changing in the field, and new requirements from the county mandate that nurses, physicians and any health science practitioner use [technology] for billing and electronic medical records,” says Battle.
The use of technologies and simulation tools will continue to expand at community colleges as they strive to mirror the demands and expectations of their local workforce.