Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Electronic Patients Simulate Emergencies for SDSU Nursing Students

Wednesday morning, the San Diego State University School of Nursing will celebrate a $ 1 million gift from Sharp HealthCare. The school will use the gift to operate its human patient simulation center

(Photo: San Diego State nursing student Janice La with patient simulator. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS )

Wednesday morning, the San Diego State University School of Nursing will celebrate a $1 million gift from Sharp HealthCare . The school will use the gift to operate its human patient simulation center. This classroom houses seven fully-automated electronic mannequins, that mimic dozens of different medical conditions. Students practice on these simulators to hone their clinical skills. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.

It’s early morning in San Diego State’s human patient simulation center. Clinical professor Susan Bass fires up one of the female simulators.


These electronic mannequins are no dummies. Bass says nursing students learn they’re just like us.

Bass: They breathe, and they blink, they can actually check pulses on the wrist, they can check pulses in the femoral, they can listen to the heart beat, the heart sounds, listen to the lungs, check a blood pressure.

Mary Beth Parr runs the center. She says the simulators are also programmed to present unusual, potentially life-threatening scenarios.

Parr: The simulators will stop breathing, their heart stops, their eyes close, and if the students don’t pick that up and recognize it quick enough, well then we’re into a full blown cardiac arrest situation. Which they don’t really like. Ha, ha, ha.

Students also don’t like the fact their every move is recorded on video, to be dissected later. So the pressure is definitely on.


Susan Bass will be in the room for the whole exercise. She’ll observe the students, and will serve as the patient’s voice, too. And she has a few tricks up her sleeve.

Here’s today scenario: A 23-year-old woman named Mrs. Jones has just given birth to twin boys. The woman has been transferred to a post-partum unit. The students come into the room, and the simulation begins. They quickly wrap up their exam.

Mrs. Jones and Student: Are you guys done with me yet? We are at the moment, let us know if you need anything and your call light will be right here next to you if you need any help. Okay Miss?

The students leave the room. Bass starts stuffing the mannequin’s abdomen with sponges. She also places pads stained with red food coloring underneath the patient. The patient calls the students back in, saying she needs to go to the bathroom. The lead nurse notices a change in her uterus.

Students and Mrs. Jones: She’s getting over-extended….We might want to catheterize her. Oh, I don’t want another catheter in. Can’t I just get up and try and go?...Okay, we’ll go ahead and let you try to go by yourself, and we’ll be in right afterwards, if you weren’t able to go, and we might have to insert a catheter on you, Miss. Okay, so we’ll give you a little privacy to go do that.

Everyone leaves the room again, except for person playing the student nurse. As she helps Mrs. Jones up from the bed, the patient collapses on the floor. The simulator’s eyes roll back in her head.

Students: Ramon! The patient fell, and she hit her head….Mrs. Jones? Hello? Mrs. Jones. She’s not alert…She’s not alert at all?...All right, let’s get her up, blood is coming out…The blood is coming out?...She’s hemorrhaging…Okay, call the doctor and inform him of the situation, tell him we’ll be instituting protocol orders.

The students jump into action. One calls the doctor. Another starts an IV. Another massages the patient’s abdomen, and puts her on oxygen. After some tense moments, Mrs. Jones opens her eyes.

Jones and Students: Oh, I really don’t feel very good. What happened?...What’s happening at the moment, miss, is that you’re having what’s called post-partum hemorrhage….Hemorrhage, hemorrhage? Am I gonna die?

The students eventually calm Mrs. Jones down, and stabilize her. The scenario ends, and there’s a debriefing. Fourth semester nursing student Karen Alt says the simulators feels like the real thing.

Alt: Pretty soon, after a while, you don’t look at, oh this is plastic, you really start to believe, that’s a person. Because you hear someone talking, and they’re interacting. And you sort of go in an automatic mode, and I’m thinking, that you do that in the hospital, too. Like, when somebody, you know, crashes or whatever, you’re just like, okay, this needs to be done, this needs to be done. So, I think it’s a great experience.

Alt says she wishes she could have more time with the simulators. At San Diego State, nursing students usually get just one session per semester. School officials say they’re trying to build more sessions into the curriculum.  

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.