Simulation lab in Maryland offers practice for real-life emergencies

The patients at a new training lab for UPMC Western Maryland staff can’t draw a breath, though it might seem like they can by the rise and fall of their chests.

The hospital recently opened up its new simulation lab, where nursing staff will have opportunities to practice for real-life emergencies on three “manikins,” specialized, life-like dummies that allow for hands-on practice for emergency situations that can otherwise be difficult to attain. The lab has simulations of a pregnant woman, an adult man and an infant that can all breathe, move their eyes and even experience convincing imitations of medical emergencies.


The lab is a satellite simulation center for the Winter Institute for Simulation, Education and Research, or WISER, which is part of UPMC and has 11 centers total. Thomas Dongilli, WISER’s director of operations, said the labs help make for safer hospitals.

“We can actually impact the way that hospitals and systems work” through use of the simulations for practice, Dongilli said, as the lifelike qualities of the manikins help nurses feel as if they are practicing on a live patient, which is critical.


The pregnant manikin — who staff have nicknamed “Anita Push” — can help staff practice delivering babies safely, as well as prepare them for other emergency situations like hemorrhaging, high blood pressure and seizures.

“When the staff are orienting up on labor and delivery or postpartum, you hope that they get to experience something like that when they’re with their preceptors, but not always,” said Elizabeth Barnhart, the hospital’s director of organizational development. “They would get to practice that here, and move through the steps of stopping the hemorrhage and all of the things that the protocol calls for.”

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“It’s a safe learning environment,” project manager Katie Beam said. “The goal is that if you’re going to make a mistake, you’re going to make it somewhere where it’s not going to influence a patient.”

The lab contains three rooms with the simulated patients, each outfitted with all the equipment that one would find in a typical hospital room. After practicing, staff have the chance to sit in a debrief room and watch a videotape of their training session. That offers them the chance to see what went well, and where they can improve, Beam said.

Beam said the lab will first be opened for use by hospital nurses for training, but it’s anticipated that doctors will catch wind and want to use the space to practice themselves. The lab equipment cost approximately $230,000, she said.

Clinton Clegg, a simulation specialist with WISER, demonstrated the software that’s used to control the manikins. Each has its own separate set of controls that can be used to simulate a wide range of medical events, said Clegg.

“It’s all about setting the scene, creating that space to put the learner in a certain mindset and feel pressure ... that they couldn’t have in a classroom,” Clegg said.

Jamie Karstetter, UPMC Western Maryland’s chief nursing officer, said the lab will benefit new and experienced nurses alike.


“For training purposes and knowledge-building, it will be great for the staff,” Karstetter said. “It’s a very large investment, but I think it’s well-needed.”