In Good Hands

Investments in simulation facilities give future physicians, dentists, and veterinarians the chance to hone their clinical skills
Dental Simulation Clinic

At Tufts, recent investments in clinical training for health science students are transforming the simulation clinics where students develop expertise and confidence through repeated practice and coaching. The hands-on experiences enrich students’ learning and prepare them to provide skilled and compassionate care in their professional careers. Here’s a look at what’s new—and what’s evolving—at three Tufts schools.

 

Cummings School Sims Clinic

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

The 3,000-square-foot Joseph Kelley, D.V.M., Simulation Laboratory allows veterinary students to practice new procedures and surgical techniques in a simulated hospital environment before heading into the clinic.

The lab, which opened in May, is named for veterinarian Joseph Kelley, a friend and mentor to many Cummings School alumni. A $5 million gift in his memory along with support from friends and alumni enabled the construction of the lab and purchase of simulators; $2 million was set aside in an endowment to support the lab’s ongoing operation.

Students preparing for live animal surgeries can practice procedures ahead of time with multiple repetitions. The lab also supports clinical skills courses required for all first- and second-year students, including those that teach how to draw blood and perform CPR. Equipped with cameras and screens, the lab also allows for procedures to be recorded and peer reviewed.

The new facility “creates a positive learning environment for students that replicates real veterinary hospitals,” said Ariana Hinckley-Boltax, assistant professor of clinical skills, “but where they can experiment, practice, get feedback, and work with their peers in a safe space.”

 

Medical Sims Clinic

School of Medicine

On the Boston campus, the Camilla Bessey Thompson and Paul D. Thompson, M.D., Clinical Skills and Simulation Center in the Biomedical Research and Public Health building is bringing together state-of-the art tools and technology and the best thinking in medical teaching and learning.

The new facility will be supported in part thanks to a naming gift from Paul Thompson, A69, M73, AG04P, and Camilla Thompson, J70, AG04P, longtime supporters of both the School of Medicine and the School of Arts and Sciences.

The couple’s gift was inspired by Paul Thompson’s upcoming 50th Reunion at the medical school. A firm believer in the value of using simulation in medical education, he is pleased to provide resources that will help medical students prepare for a variety of clinical scenarios.

Features include 16 simulated exam rooms where students will practice taking medical histories and refining their bedside manner with actors who are trained to play the role of patients. Working with these “standardized patient actors” allows students to practice softer skills such as asking open-ended questions. Each room is fully wired for audio and video, so faculty members can watch students and provide feedback later to help them improve.

Four simulation spaces will be outfitted with advanced computerized mannequins that display symptoms and distress in realistic ways, giving students the opportunity to practice procedures such as CPR, work as a team to respond to an emergency, or insert a ventilation tube.

At 9,000 square feet, the spacious new center also encompasses a 50-person classroom, three observation/monitoring rooms, a lounge for the standardized patient actors, and offices for the Department of Educational Affairs.

Gifts to the Clinical Skills and Medical Education Technology Fund are pivotal to the success of the new facility, strategically located one floor away from the Michael J. Anatomy Lab. Several donors have already named spaces, and there are many other opportunities to support the fund.

“We have a must-have list that will help this beautiful new facility reach its highest potential,” said Laura Baecher-Lind, dean for educational affairs and professor of obstetrics and gynecology. The list includes everything from new otoscopes and patient simulators that reflect patient diversity to funding to support faculty and staff time devoted to teaching students.

 

School of Dental Medicine

At the School of Dental Medicine’s simulation center on the 14th floor, 108 stations mirror conditions in a real operatory: hand pieces, suction, and even water that drains through the “throat” of an anatomically correct mannequin head. Each station also has a video monitor for students to watch their professors’ demonstrations.

The Dental Board of Advisors is evaluating a proposal that would take that clinic to a new level of sophistication. The vision: to introduce the application of haptic technology, which makes it possible to touch and feel virtual objects; a student could feel the tip of a drill as it makes contact with a tooth, for example. The sense of touch conveys detailed information, which can increase precision and reduce the time it takes to complete a procedure.

Enthusiasm for simulators makes sense “because a lot of what we do in dentistry is focused on knowledge of technical skills to relieve pain and discomfort,” said Aruna Ramesh, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of oral and maxillofacial radiology. “With haptic technology, we can deliver that relief with even more accuracy, which in turn builds the confidence level of the student.”

Haptic technology is expensive, but Ramesh sees it as a natural application for dentistry. “Many of our students as adolescents have been exposed to gaming big time,” she said. “They are adept at the hand controls of video games and can easily connect that control to what they see on the screen. Technology evolves fast, so it’s important that we make thoughtful investments now to prepare our students for the future.”