Find out how plastic patients help nursing students

This semester, nursing students at UNC-Greensboro will be introduced to a new patient: a plastic mom dubbed by the manufacturer as “SimMom.” 

Plastic patients—or mannequins with extra capabilities— are becoming more common in nursing schools. They cry, moan, ask questions, give birth and bleed.  During a simulation, faculty members use remote operating software to send commands to the mannequin, so students experience a variety of trauma situations. 

“The students take it very seriously,” said nursing school dean Robin Remsburg. 

UNC-Greensboro's nursing school already used a mannequin to teach students, but the SimMom is the latest model and it's designed for maternity care simulations. She’s equipped with a fetus, birth canal, cervix and uterus. The nursing students will go through the various stages of maternal care: pre-natal, delivery and post-natal care. She can also labor on her side, in a chair or on her knees. 

“Students can get to know the mannequin as if she was a real patient, they make her comfortable, get her history,” said Remsburg. “Then the faculty can simulate both normal and emergency situations.” 

Emergencies can range from a breached baby (when the baby’s feet come first) to excessive bleeding after birth. Students practice skill sets on the responsive mannequin, like uterine massage and basic management for hemorrhaging. 

“The simulations help them get over their butterflies,” said Remsberg.

Instructors record the simulation, and reviews the recording with students, giving them pointers and praise. 

Dean Remsberg said these hands-on skills are vital to the nursing students. All of them will take a rotation on a labor and delivery floor, but it’s unlikely every student will witness or take an active role in delivery and post-care during their rotation. 

The stakes are high. 

Between 700 and 900 women in the U.S. die every year from pregnancy or birth-related causes, and that number is increasing every year. Heart disease, blood clots, high blood pressure and infection can all lead to deaths during pregnancy. But women with heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure have higher risk of complications during the maternal period. Dean Remsberg said that with the SimMom, nursing students will be exposed to all the symptoms of these potential complications. And unlike previous models, who had to be attached to a pump, SimMom is wireless. 

- Rossie Izlar

Rossie Izlar is the associate producer of Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly show highlighting the latest science stories from North Carolina and across the nation.