Clustered around a hospital bed, a group of nursing students work with a patient who has just been admitted with ketoacidosis, a serious condition that occurs when cells don’t get the energy they need from glucose.
The 18-year-old football player, who has just learned he has diabetes, has a lot of questions, and the students are happy to provide answers and demonstrate how to measure blood sugar levels.

While the instructor is paying very close attention to the students, the patient couldn’t care less. If the patient’s responses are a bit mechanical, it’s because — well — they are.
He’s “Sim Man,” a high-fidelity simulation mannequin. His lifelike features give the nursing students an opportunity to practice a variety of critical skills they’ll need in their future careers as health care professionals. 
The Nursing Interprofessional Simulation Center officially opened in its new home on April 5, although students already have been training there this semester.
“This redeveloped space is a state-of-the-art facility that will enhance our students’ experience while we advance our interprofessional approach to health care education,” said Pamela G. Watson, dean of the School of Nursing at UTMB Health.
The simulation center previously was on the first floor of the School of Nursing, which sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Ike. The inventory of models and mannequins was moved to safety and, in the interim, the training moved to temporary quarters.
Now on the second floor of Rebecca Sealy Hospital, the new center was funded by a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education under its disaster relief program. At about 11,000 square feet, the new center is almost double the size of the old one.
The bigger space and location provide new amenities and a realistic training environment. What used to be a waiting room for patients is now a room for students to gather before and after class.
There are lockers for the students, a kitchen area and a control room for instructors. But perhaps more importantly, the “classrooms” mirror what students will encounter in the real world — examination rooms, hospital rooms and pediatric care areas. There are more than a dozen rooms equipped with hospital beds, IV stands and the familiar monitors that measure vital signs.
Still, the central figure is the Sim Man (or woman or child) who occupies the bed that gives the students the hands-on experience needed to develop critical skills.These cutting-edge high-fidelity training mannequins come with technological enhancements that make the experience even more real, if a bit surreal at the same time.
As you look at one of the male mannequins, the chest rises and falls, and you can feel the distal pulse in the foot. His pupils dilate, he blinks and his eyelids can also grow drowsy.
His heart beat and pulse rises or plummets at the touch of a keystroke. Students can measure his respiratory rate and oxygen levels. And, when filled with distilled water, he can sweat and cry. And even bleed. Not real blood but real enough to help train the health care students.
“I’m impressed with what he does,” said Julia Beoris, a junior in the second semester medical surgical course. “He seems very real.” She said learning with Sim Man is “extremely helpful. You learn from your mistakes so it helps you grow more confident.”
While Sim Man is the top of the line, less exciting but equally important are the partial mannequins such as arms, chests and other body parts that allow students to learn how to start an IV, insert catheters or dress a chest wound. The pediatric room is equipped with a baby scale and “babies” for students to learn how to assess and care for their tiniest patients.
In the medical dispensing training room, students log into a training program and select the steps and tools needed to administer the proper dosage of medication. The software tracks the performance and students learn a critical skill, at no peril to patients.
“It’s a virtual hospital world with virtual patients,” said Claudine Dufrene, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and director of the center. “Simulation provides students with the opportunity to practice in a risk-free environment where errors will not harm actual patients.”
The center is truly interprofessional, with medical students rotating through in the summer to learn critical skills and faculty expanding and developing courses for physical therapy students.
“UTMB is ahead of the curve in that sense of interprofessionalism,” said Dufrene. She recently had more than 700 students come through the center in a four-day period. 

The students in class consider it an excellent teaching tool.
“You can listen to different heartbeats, such as arrhythmias, or breath sounds like wheezes and rales,” said Xochitl Cano. “That may not happen in the hospital.”
Moreover, in the real world, there are limits to a patient’s patience.
“Sometimes you feel uncomfortable about asking the patient,” said Brendon Efaw. “Here the patient is always comfortable.”