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Students prepare like never before at the Clinical Skills and Medical Simulation Center

A patient recovering from gall-bladder surgery complains to his doctor of wooziness and shortness of breath. Suddenly, the patient's heartbeat speeds up; he appears, right there in the exam room, to be getting sicker and sicker.

An emergency? Not really. The examining physician is a Tufts medical student, and the patient is a realistic mannequin being controlled by a teacher in an adjoining control room. The high-tech "dummy patient," operated via computer, can breathe, feign a heart attack, and, through a built-in speaker, even talk.

The exam is being carried out in a state-of-the-art medical simulation center that resembles an actual hospital emergency room. The simulation center at 35 Kneeland Street is part of an ambitious transformation of the School of Medicine's city campus made possible by a $15 million gift from the Jaharis Family Foundation.

The 8,500-square foot Clinical Skills and Medical Simulation Center will greatly improve the student experience by giving them the ability to interact with patients-both mannequins and live actors-in a setting that looks and feels like a real physician's office. The facility also enables greater opportunities for firsthand observation of students, and thus better faculty feedback.

"Students debriefed afterward say it feels absolutely real," says Dr. Scott Epstein, dean of educational affairs at the School of Medicine. "Every student who has walked through here said it was great."

Dean Epstein recently led a tour of the new center on the third floor of 35 Kneeland. The facility features 12 patient exam rooms where Objective Structured Clinical Examinations, or OSCEs, are performed on "standardized patients" portrayed by actors. The standardized patients-the artist's models of the medical school world-are specialists at feigning pains and illnesses. A sample exam room looks like the exam room at your doctor's office, save for the unobtrusive camera, a little dome in one corner of the ceiling, that enables observers in a central control room to monitor the examination. On a typical day, the 12 exam rooms will be in operation with 12 standardized patients, each student seeing eight, presenting different maladies. "It really mimics what they'll confront on board exams," Epstein says.

The School of Medicine has 170 students in each class, and each student will spend time in the facility all four years, Epstein says. "This will be a busy place."

The simulation center, set up like an emergency room or a hospital room or an intensive-care unit, enables students to practice procedures on mannequins without risk of harming a live person. "The dummies look almost real," Epstein says. "You can feel a pulse. They breathe; their lungs expand; they have heart sounds." And they can talk. "The student forgets pretty quickly it's a mannequin."

The benefit of robot patients is they can "get up and walk away," Epstein says. "It's safe to make mistakes. It's just like a flight simulator: better to crash that than the real McCoy."

For more information about naming opportunities available for the Clinical Skills and Medical Simulation Center, please contact:
Leslie Kolterman
Senior Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Tufts University School of Medicine