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    Clinical Skills Center Helps Med Students Become Real Doctors

    The new, one year old Clinical Skills Center at Stony Brook University’s Medical School uses the ideas of Bicentennial Man, a film with Robin Williams that creates high-tech robots to help with work and House, a television program that deals with doctors getting hands on training with patients. Using computerized mannequins, called SimMen and SimBaby, along with trained actors emulating patients, the center helps prepare medical students for real-life encounters in the medical field.

    ‘We can do anything here that the imagination can create,’ said Perrilynn Baldelli, the director of the center.

    Before the facility was built, the ‘standardized patient program,’ which uses trained actors and mannequins, existed, but it had to borrow a location from the family medical clinic to run the structured clinical exams that assess students in different competencies. Because the facility was shared, the only time students could use it was on the weekends, which meant extremely long days Friday through Sunday.

    Now that Center has built their own separate 6,000-square-foot facility, students are evaluated throughout the week. They can make use of more rooms and technology that they lacked before, such as 10 fully equipped clinical exam rooms with audiovisual monitoring, a simulated operating and emergency room and a computer server that stores two to three years of videotaped student/patient encounters, which for all the computer-savvy people means up to four terabytes of storage.

    ‘Having a center designed for us is wonderful,’ said Patricia Bley, coordinator and trainer of the standardized patients, ‘We don’t have to go anywhere to do our testing. It is right at our fingertips,’

    The center, which cost approximately $4 million to build and equip, is primarily funded by capital funds and Quality of Life, an educational medical program. It is being used as a resource for specialized training, mainly of eight specialties: neurology, family medicine, pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, ambulatory care, psychology and gynecology. ‘The overall umbrella is to help all qualities of health-care professionals to make better training of simulations,’ said Dr. Daniel J Gallagher, the technical program director of the Center.

    The simulated lab, which uses the high-tech mannequins, is one of the most state-of-the-art facilities on Long Island according to director, Perilyn Baldelli. The $38,000 SimMen and SimBaby provide students with training to work with patients that simulate actual human beings before they begin their career.

    At first glance, the simulated mannequins look like detailed CPR dummies, but if CPR dummies could emulate these mannequins, that would be impressive. The simulated patients have a heartbeat, spinal fluid and lungs, and they can simulate everything from a code blue situation to victims of a terrorism attack.

    ‘You can kill them and resurrect them, and it’s fun,’ Baldelli said.

    The standardized patients are another key advantage of the center. Actors are trained so that they know appropriate signs and symptoms to act out to the students in clinics. The actors learn to portray different kinds of patients with different illnesses. They teach the students how to handle the patient and how to communicate professionally.

    Without this training, doctors may feel uncomfortable when dealing with sensitive topics. ‘It’s something you learn by doing, not hearing about,’ Bley said. ‘If they don’t practice it now, how are they going to learn how to give someone terrible news? You know, like a lost child, or a mother that passes away.’

    The actors also provide feedback of the doctors to help the doctors better their performance. Each demonstration is videotaped and can be played back for the doctors on the big-screen televisions that come out of the walls in the conference room, so that they can see how they worked with the patient and what needs some extra work. As Bley said, some people are naturally sympathetic, but sympathy is also a learned skill. Getting this feedback is critical in helping to prepare these students for careers in medicine and to promote patient care and safety.

    The Clinical Skills Center has everything needed to make anybody who walks in the facility want to become a doctor. Gallagher’s eyes lit up as he spoke about all the new technologies that are now at his fingertips. ‘I’m the enchanting wizard who controls them,’ he said, ‘This place is just magical.’

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