Walk down a hallway in University Medical Center Brackenridge and you might run into a guy with a skeleton foot hanging out his back pocket, carrying a make-up kit full of paints, latex and the makings for other special effects.
But it’s not for Halloween. For Cleo Hill, it’s just another day on the job as a simulation technician in UMC Brackenridge’s Clinical Education Center (CEC).
The CEC offers a hands-on simulation lab that stages medical scenarios via training sessions and exercises for nurses, physicians and other medical specialists so they can experience dramatic – and often traumatic – patient situations. High-technology mannequins with audio and visual capabilities are used to make the experiences more life-like.
They can talk, scream, bleed – while giving birth or during open heart surgery, for example – and can have – or suddenly lose – a heartbeat, depending on the training objective.
In staging a car wreck victim scene or creating a fractured tibia or burn, Hill gives live training sessions a realistic feel with his special effects artistry on the mannequins. He dabbled with drawing, painting and film in the past, so transferring his skills from the canvas to recreating human traumas and conditions on mannequins has certainly been interesting, and at times, challenging.
“I use similar brushes and techniques as with painting, so it wasn’t a completely unnatural transition,” Hill said, “but there’s been a steep learning curve when it comes to the medical conditions and terminology.”
That’s why he seeks advice and input from Ascension Seton nurses and physicians on how to best create realistic scenes. Listen to him for a little while, however, and you’d never know Hill isn’t a nurse or doctor himself as he rattles off conditions he and his co-workers have recreated inside the nearly dozen CEC rooms.
The mannequins can be eerily lifelike and range in age and size from newborns, infants and children to adult women and men. Some are used for more basic procedures, such as fractures or burns, while the “high-fidelity” simulators can be programmed to replicate more advanced situations.
“The mannequins bring everything to life and can make you think they are real people,” Hill said. “The first time I did a birthing simulation, I was afraid of dropping the baby. It really puts you into the mindset where you have to think, react and perform the right procedure.”
It’s this mindset that Ascension Seton leaders were looking to cultivate when the idea for a live skills center first emerged. Yvonne VanDyke, senior vice president for nursing and clinical education, noted the center is a collaborative effort involving leaders from area nursing and allied health programs, as well as community leaders concerned about the future of medical education locally.
“There is a need within the community to provide a pipeline to support the future of care,” VanDyke said, “so we responded and now have the space and resources to support learning all the way from nursing and medical students who have never experienced care in a live setting to experienced clinical staff looking to operationally improve the patient experience or test new devices.”
As Central Texas’ largest clinical educational facility, the CEC plays a critical role in healthcare education. It hosts bioskills labs, where physicians can learn new procedures and be trained on using new medical devices. It also has a medical library, conference rooms and computer labs.
Ascension Seton has educational partnerships with Austin Community College, Concordia University and Texas Tech University, whose students regularly use the CEC. With the opening of Dell Medical School at The University of Texas in 2016, VanDyke said Ascension Seton envisions growing these relationships while exploring new opportunities to play a greater role in medical education.
For now, Hill looks forward to coming to work each day to see what’s in store.
“I love the teamwork we have here and love the creative freedom to own my projects,” he said. “More importantly, I like knowing that what I do can help young nurses and physicians make the transition to offer the best patient care – and maybe help save someone’s life.”