Dr. Abu-Bakr Al-Mehdi (left) with student Travis Harris
Students in the pharmacology department at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have been introduced to a new and innovative teaching method – human simulators.
Dr. Abu-Bakr Al-Mehdi, associate professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said the pharmacology department was the first among the basic science departments at USA to use human simulators.
“We use the simulators in the medical and clinical pharmacology courses to introduce students to the clinical experience,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “Students are able to get hands-on experience in a hospital-like setting. This makes it more realistic and a better learning experience.”
The human simulators are computer controlled robotic mannequins that can be programmed to simulate physiological and pathological states, including symptoms, signs, diseases and drug effects. Pharmacology students are able to administer drugs and then monitor important changes in physiological parameters, such as heart rate, EKG, and urinary output.
“They can do this without worrying about causing harm to the patient,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “It is a great teaching tool in a much more relaxed environment.”
Dr. Al-Mehdi said there are several aspects of simulation that make it a preferred teaching method over simply listening to a lecture or reading about a procedure in a textbook.
“The simulations enable students to practice scenarios ahead of time,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to experience procedures that they will never learn until they do it themselves.”
“In a human patient, students only see a specific subset of signs and symptoms of a disease that is present in that particular patient,” Dr. Al-Mehdi said. “With a human simulator, professors can deliver built-in standard clinical scenarios or a customized set of signs and symptoms for a richer clinical experience.”
USA has established an impressive infrastructure of human simulation, with multiple full body simulators and partial task trainers. The simulators are used in the College of Nursing and College of Medicine, and Dr. Al-Mehdi hopes that they will become more common in basic science curriculum.
“It is a great opportunity for students to rehearse their basic science skills in a mock clinical setting,” he said, “and the experience promises to be a valuable teaching tool in basic science education.”