Simulator prepares CVCC students for health care careers

There is a hospital inside Catawba Valley Community College. On Friday, it came to life.

In a simulated Intensive Care Unit (ICU), second-year student Ethel Downey pulled a hunk of innards from the chest of a “gunshot victim.” She lifted it up for her fellow students and audience to see, and a line of fake blood squirted from the “patient’s” sliced artery and hit her on the forearm.

“You got me that time,” she said to fellow student Leslie Casey, who was controlling the reproduced blood palpitations. Downey looked at the patient simulator and continued operating.

In other rooms in the hospital, students were working just as hard.
In Labor and Delivery, a mock baby was born.

In Respiratory Therapy, students helped a mannequin’s chest move up, then down.

To-be nurses checked computer monitors that blinked, buzzed and beeped.

Though nothing in the hospital is technically “real,” CVCC is taking the phrase “learning by doing” to the next level.

The CVCC Regional Simulated Hospital is designed to give health care students one-of-a-kind training that is as real as it can get.

Everything in the hospital is realistic – from the beds, the ambient sounds, the hallways and the patient simulators that breathe, sweat, talk, bleed, throw up and die.

CVCC officials say the hospital creates a smoother transition from classroom learning to clinical training with real people, something current students say they can already see working.

“It’s a big difference from classroom learning to touching real humans, so the simulated environment helps,” said Jason Sadowski, a second-year respiratory therapy student.

On Friday, Sadowski worked with other students on a patient that suffered a heart attack. The simulated mannequin had a history of artery disease, and his deep breaths and wheezes echoed around the ICU corridor.

“These reproduce anything a real human can do,” Sadowski said, adding that the noises from medical equipment and rush of people coming in and out would match that of a real hospital. “The stress level is high, and it’s kind of like a pass or fail.”

The students interact with the simulators like they are real, too.
Mannequins respond to treatment and can talk to trainees while they are practicing.

In the delivery room, four students crowded around a mannequin giving birth. After the baby was received, nurses took the baby to a table, wrapped it in blankets and cared for it.

“What did you name it?” one nurse asked the mannequin.

“There’s no comparison between this and book learning,” said Casey, who assisted treating the gunshot victim in ICU. “Before the (simulated hospital) was here, we had lecture and lab, but in normal lab you wouldn’t do this. Before this, we didn’t have the blood, cardiac arrest and the mannequins that talk and breathe at us.”

There is a limited supply of locations for students to perform required clinical training, and officials think the hospital helps fill that need. The hospital may also be used by practicing health care professionals who want to further or continue their education, as well.

Pansy Downs is starting her first year as a respiratory therapy student at CVCC. She said she will have a distinct advantage over other RT students when she graduates.

“It feels like we are actually working on real people. We can learn everything that we need here because it’s so close to the real thing. The mannequins sweat, cry, ooze and bleed. They are very realistic,” Downs said chuckling. “The only thing that’s not realistic is the hair.”

For more information on CVCC’s Regional Simulated Hospital or the college in general, visit