My friend and military colleague, TJ (his real name), was in the hospital because a family member was having a procedure at the UVM Medical Center. The family member was doing okay, but TJ was hovering and was very nervous.

TJ is an F-16 pilot. F-16 pilots (like surgeons) tend to be type-A personalities – let’s say we don’t like sitting and watching the grass grow. Well, TJ wanted everything pre-flighted, briefed, and buttoned up. His significant other, Julie (not her real name) was rolling her eyes a bit and I thought I could maybe provide some diversion. My surgical cases were done so I said, “TJ, let’s take a walk and I’ll show you our clinical simulators”. TJ, with clear disdain, said “Simulators?! What do you need simulators for?” but we walked off anyway while Julie breathed a sigh of relief.

We walked through the “hospital” portion of our Clinical Simulation Laboratory. I showed him the “real” hospital room and pointed out the two-way mirror (so instructors can stand outside the room, see into the room, but not be seen) and the two video cameras in each room. I explained how we try and make the room and all the equipment just like what exists at the UVM Medical Center.

I showed him a human mannequin simulator and how it can talk, sweat, bleed, wheeze, urinate, and have a variety of human illnesses and conditions. I explained how we practice our EPs (emergency procedures) on the mannequins so, in the rare event that they arise, we know how to react.

In fact, on the day we walked through, we had almost every room filled with nurses and doctors taking ACLS, the American Heart Association’s Advanced Cardiac Life Support course. So, people (oops, mannequin simulators) were having heart attacks and trying to die in six different rooms. Then, I explained how we reviewed tapes of the event during a “debrief” session, where more learning takes place.

Finally, TJ said, “So you guys do it just like us”. I said “we’re trying.” Aviation has been using simulators a lot longer than medicine. To hear a seasoned F-16 pilot validate our techniques made my day.

Thankfully, TJ’s family member did well, his wife recovered from TJ’s anxiety, and every one of the mannequins made it through the session to teach us another day.

Come and see what TJ saw by “liking” the UVM Medical Center on Facebook and enter for a chance to be a “Doc for a Day”. Five lucky winners will get to spend an afternoon on our Clinical Simulation Laboratory, participating in surgical training, conducting virtual surgeries like the DaVinci robotic surgery, and even experience delivering a baby from one of our mannequins!

Michael A. Ricci, MD is Clinical Director of Simulation and a vascular surgeon at the UVM Medical Center.

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