The world of medicine is always changing, thanks — in part — to the technological advancements being made every day. At Highmark, we know that students pursuing careers in the fast-paced field of medicine need tools and resources to prepare them for success. That’s why we’re proud to support the efforts of universities in our community, like Carlow University in Pittsburgh.
With a $250,000 grant from Highmark, Carlow’s College of Health and Wellness purchased two pieces of state-of-the-art educational technology for students in the university’s nursing and respiratory care programs.
The Anatomage Table is a full-scale, touch-screen digital display with a library of more than 100 high-resolution models that allow students to explore the inner-workings of both human and animal bodies.
Michael Mehall, MED, BSRT, RRT-NPS, CPFT, a respiratory care professor at Carlow, has been using the table with his classes since 2014, and has discovered numerous classroom applications for the technology.
“Picture a graphic of a human body,” he says. “I can touch the screen and slide my finger across to virtually ‘cut’ the body at any point, and then manipulate the view to show students a cross-section of any organ or tissue in the body. This incredibly detailed tool displays each layer and structure with precise anatomical accuracy, enabling students with an unsurpassed ability to comprehensively explore the human body.”
Mehall says he uses the table with all levels of students, from introductory courses in anatomy and physiology to advanced nursing and respiratory care classes.
“Because of the level of detail on the Anatomage, it can be a great complement to traditional practices like animal dissection and the analysis of lung tissue,” Mehall says. This semester, Mehall’s classes used the Anatomage to view detailed, 3-D images of unhealthy tissue alongside the conventional, hands-on method of examination (using a pig’s lungs) for a more thorough educational experience.
The Anatomage has also been used by Carlow’s nursing students to study the cardiopulmonary system. “They can even complete their lab practicals on it,” Mehall says, referring to a type of examination in which students are tested by performing lab-based techniques.
“The grant has provided this incredible teaching tool that is, honestly, unsurpassed by anything I’ve ever seen,” Mehall says. “The detail and the possibilities to integrate it into teaching are simply endless.”
Located in the simulation center (or “Sim Lab”) at Carlow is the new SimMan® 3G, a life-size mannequin that simulates a full scope of medical and neurological and physiological conditions.
Dr. Danielle Spirnak, director of nursing simulation and skills center at Carlow, says the SimMan® 3G enables her students to experience and treat various conditions and reactions through true-life simulation.
“It’s really amazing what it can do,” Spirnak says. “It helps give students a clinical experience before they’re treating real patients, and for students who are already doing clinicals, it can help them hone in on and improve the things they need to work on.”
The SimMan® 3G can be programmed to bleed, sweat, cry, foam at the mouth and exhibit other bodily functions. Students in Carlow’s Physical Assessment course take advantage of the full-range of human sounds the mannequin can produce, differentiating between various heart and lung sounds to identify specific medical conditions.
Carlow’s nursing students also use the SimMan 3G to practice neuro-assessments, checking the pulse, pupil reactions and vocal responses of the mannequin to establish whether or not their simulated patient has experienced brain trauma.
“These are things we weren’t able to practice or test before,” Spirnak says. “When students are in a clinical environment, we can’t guarantee they’ll encounter a patient with a given condition, so being able to simulate a wide range of situations can help prepare students even better for their careers.”
Though at first, Spirnak says, students may take the simulation experience lightly, they soon come to treat the mannequin like a real patient. “In some cases, students actually get more nervous for assessments with the SimMan than they do for their clinicals, because they know when they’re working with the mannequin, something will go wrong, and they’ll have to adapt,” she says. Because of the level of realism involved, the hours students spend working in Carlow’s Sim Lab count toward their clinical work hours, which are required in the nursing program.
As the director of nursing simulation, Spirnak is especially grateful to have two cutting-edge technological resources for her students. She says they both help to serve different learning styles, and — in some instances — can be more helpful educational tools than their traditional counterparts.
“The technology has so much to offer, and it enables us to provide our students with so many different experiences they might otherwise go without,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s helping to create better nurses and medical professionals who are going to go on and be successful in their chosen fields.”
Mary Anne Papale, director of community affairs at Highmark, is inclined to agree.
“The health care employees of tomorrow will need to be comfortable with innovative technologies,” Papale says. “With this grant, Highmark supports new training resources, which will excite students about their chosen careers.”
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