A second chance at life: Simulation center offers unique training environment

Story by Christine Creenan, for Soldiers magazine

Lt. Col. Shad Deering uses the full-sized birthing mannequin he created to teach military medical students at the Uniformed Services University fundamental skills like proper surgical techniques. Deering's patient simulator, patented and licensed by the Army, is also being used in military hospitals around the world.(Photo by Tom Balfour, Uniformed Services University)

Things go wrong in operating rooms every day. Doctors’ blades slip, poor communication leads to complications, patients receive too much anesthesia – the list is endless.

These results can also be deadly, except on Army doctor Lt. Col. Shad Deering’s tables at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences National Capital Area Medical Simulation Center in Silver Spring, Md. In his operating rooms, everyone gets second and third chances.

A flat line or too much bleeding here simply means USU’s up-and-coming medical students need more practice. With the push of a button and a little reprogramming, patients at the SimCenter – computerized mannequins and specialized task trainers – are ready for round two.

“Our simulators respond to treatment the way real patients do, except there are no serious consequences if things go awry,” said Deering, who came onboard recently as the center’s new director of the human patient simulator division. “That’s why the SimCenter is a good place to make mistakes and learn from them, so we can perform better in hospitals – where it matters most.”

It’s also a place to learn important fundamentals like surgical technique and teamwork in multidisciplinary settings. Honing these skills, under the watchful eyes of seasoned instructors like Deering, a USU alumnus himself, has proven, long-term benefits.

“Simulation education is a very dynamic, hands-on way of learning important concepts. It can also lead to better, safer patient care, according to recent data,” he said. “Training students with this technology, therefore, is not only an effective learning modality, but it’s also the right thing to do.”

Deering’s advocacy is also his life’s work. The experienced obstetrician is a simulation pioneer, responsible for the creation of systems like the Mobile Obstetric Emergencies Simulator, or MOES.

The MOES, patented and licensed by the U.S. Army, is a full-size birthing mannequin complete with a standardized curriculum. The comprehensive package is currently being used in every hospital with a labor and delivery ward across the Military Health System, which includes hospitals in 14 countries and 41 states.

Like the technology available at the USU SimCenter, MOES provide emergency training for medical professionals without real-life collateral damage.

“Textbooks alone don’t give individuals and teams the confidence they need to perform well under stress,” Deering said. “Lots of experience does, and that’s what simulation training provides.”

With access to one of the nation’s most advanced simulation centers, that’s exactly what USU students get. The campus community spends more than 300,000 hours inside the SimCenter every year, with each student completing at least 40 simulated experiences before graduation.

“Education here is truly cutting-edge because of places like the SimCenter. I know this from my own personal experience as a former medical student, current faculty member and simulation expert,” Deering said. “At USU, there is no such thing as an inexperienced graduate.”

 Christine Creenan is a writer for the Uniformed Services University’s Office of External Affairs.