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Robotic patients help train first responders, students

Robotic patients help in training

ELMHURST – Elmhurst College nursing students routinely practice simulations with robotic patients, but this week the Elmhurst Fire Department joined the students for an emergency rescue situation.

"A lot of times you're educating in a vacuum … here they're really seeing the system, which is a wonderful learning opportunity," said Julie Hoff, director of Elmhurst College's Deicke Center for Nursing.

Tuesday's simulation involved the fire department as well as cooperation with Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, where construction is nearly finished on the college’s Simulation Center. Once completed, the 4,600-square-foot laboratory and classroom space, located in the hospital’s lower level, will enable the college’s nursing students to practice and build clinical skills without risk to patients.

"We're going to use it for our new nurses," said Kathy DeLaPaz, program director of Emergency Services at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.

She explained that even though they are no longer students, nurses can benefit from simulations of less common situations. Elmhurst paramedics plan to also use the new center for ongoing education and practice.

While a few of the nursing students admitted they were a little nervous before Tuesday's simulation, they were excited for the experience, which offered the freedom to learn without fear of making mistakes.

"One big thing is when we're in sim we're always told it's a safe zone," senior nursing student Karolina Krzemien said.

Instead of a lab, students were in a parking lot interacting with professional emergency responders as they would in a true emergency.

"It's the closest thing to a real-life scenario," Elmhurst Deputy Fire Chief Bill Anaszewicz said.

The opportunity to work with professionals was invaluable to Laury Westbury,
director of the Simulation Center, who orchestrated the entire simulation. She explained that a majority of medical errors are the result of lapses in communication.

"For patient safety now, inter-disciplinary education in between all facets of health care is really important," said Westbury, who controlled the simulated patients Tuesday, creating surprise situations for students and paramedics.

"I always believe that you need to have an understanding for everybody else's job," Elmhurst Fire Chief Jeff Bacidore said.

Anaszewicz said firefighters would normally work even faster, but within about 15 minutes, a crew of Elmhurst firefighters shattered windows, removed doors and tore the roof off of the blue Ford Explorer donated by O'Hare Towing.

"Normally, we'd take the two doors off and take the patients out," Anaszewicz said.

Instead, he explained, the firefighters took advantage of the opportunity to practice a variety of extrication procedures on the vehicle.

Recent Elmhurst College graduate Colleen Dhamer knows firsthand how important simulations are to succeeding as a nurse. As a student, Dhamer remembers working in a simulation where a baby seized. The next time she went to the hospital, she has an infant patient who seized.

"I knew what to do because I had that practice in the lab," Dhamer said.

Excited for the new Simulation Center, Westbury saw Tuesday's simulation as just the beginning for an event she hopes to hold several times each year.

"This is just like a stepping stone to what's really going to happen," Westbury said.

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