“Mr. Bennett” pushes nursing students
at Norwich to give their best © Nov. 13, 2009, Norwich University Office of Communications

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Music: Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Video: Norwich Office of Communications

The shine of newness graced the walls and floor of a room where Mr. Lloyd Bennett was nestled into sage green sheets, attended to by two nurses using up-to-date medical equipment.

This was not a hospital scene, however. No ordinary patient, Mr. Bennett is really known as “Sim Man,” and is part of a simulation laboratory designed to help nursing students acquire hands-on experience.

Clad in burgundy scrubs, seniors Gillian Jackson and Cynthia Freudenthal prepared a blood transfusion for Mr. Bennett without appearing to notice he’s a high-tech mannequin.

“The patient becomes very real to us,” said Freudenthal, a native of Gorham, N.H. “You can see [him] deteriorating in front of you.”

It’s a humbling experience. ... The simulator physiologically and emotionally responds to the students, which creates an element of realism.

~ Heather Martin,
nursing professor

A one-way mirror provided a window to their efforts for three nursing professors gathered in the adjacent control room. Associate Professor Janice Hansen held a microphone to assume the voice of Mr. Bennett. Nursing Department Chairwoman Valerie McCarthy watched through the glass and via a large monitor with scenes captured by two cameras.

Heather Martin, an assistant professor who is in charge of the simulation lab, operated the controls from a laptop computer. She can change the patient’s symptoms with a few clicks to alter the experience for students.

“As an instructor, you have to know what [Sim Man’s] reaction would really be to what the students do,” Martin said. “There is a lot to keep track of.”

The students bustled about and worked in tandem. They checked charts, the IV bag, blood pressure and heart rate. They kept up a conversation with Mr. Bennett, double-checking his birthday, answering questions and reassuring him.

After Hansen, voicing Mr. Bennett, requested more pain medication, the phone rang in the control room. Jackson, from Braintree, Vt., called to check in with the doctor—a role assumed by Martin. Jackson explained the patient’s condition and requests, took notes and listened to the doctor’s orders, repeating them.

All went well as the transfusion began. But as Freudenthal asked Mr. Bennett how he felt, the “patient” described a tight chest, throat and increased difficulty breathing, and the scene changed. He was having an adverse reaction.

The control room phone rang again. Jackson reported the situation while Freudenthal leaned over the bed repeating, “Mr. Bennett, are you OK?”

Martin covered the phone and whispered to Hanson. “Don’t say anything.”

The students moved quickly and Martin, posing as the doctor, entered the room. The trio worked on getting a respiratory bag in place to restore Mr. Bennett’s ability to breathe.

In the midst of the chaotic scene, Hanson turned to McCarthy in the control room. “I think it’s time for an upset relative,” she said.

Posing as Mrs. Bennett, McCarthy rushed into the room demanding to know what was wrong with her husband and bawling on the verge of hysteria. It was an additional challenge for the students.

Later, as the manikin “stabilized,” the professors laughed at their impromptu roles in the simulation while Martin and the students gathered for debriefing and to discuss specific details. She complimented them on their ability to work together and stay calm.

Martin prompted Jackson to talk about her experience organizing the meds in the midst of the situation. “It felt like it took forever,” Jackson admitted.

Jackson, who helps run the lab for third-year students as part of her work-study job, is thrilled about the facility, completed in time for the 2009 school year. “It’s a great part of the program and compliments the required clinical for nursing students,” she said. “I also enjoy the debriefing where you learn what you can improve on.”

Freudenthal was equally excited. “The simulation gives us the advantage to be able to do things that we might not normally see,” she said. “It gives us a visual and hands-on memory.”

“Plus,” Jackson added, “it’s cool. It is awesome technology.”

The simulation lab, on the ground floor of Bartoletto Hall, is part of a new home for nursing students, and represents the transformation of a dark space with dirt floor to a state-of-the art training facility that resembles a small hospital ward. Partially funded by a Department of Education grant procured by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, the renovation has brought the future of nursing firmly into the hands of Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college.

Martin continues to develop formal curriculum specific to the lab, and is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “It’s a humbling experience,” she said. “The simulator physiologically and emotionally responds to the students, which creates an element of realism. Simulation in our new lab allows the students to practice various skills, assessments and to think critically without the fear of harming a real patient.”