It is a high-stakes environment, where time determines the difference between life and death.
This is where Chrida Nkuna (24) has experienced her fair share of nerve-wracking wins and losses over the past four years.
“You are timed on what treatment you administered and how; on what you’ve done and what you’ve said – and if it’s the right thing you’ve done.
"Have you killed the patient or have you saved the patient?
"Sometimes the patient dies right in front of you when you’re trying to help, and the monitor rings flat,” said the Emergency Medical Care student, currently in her fourth year of study for her Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, smiling nervously.
Only, the patients are neither alive nor real.
The same goes for the setting in which Nkuna and other students practise their skills at the state-of-the-art Medical Simulation Laboratory, located at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ’s) faculty of health sciences.
To date, more than 700 students have undergone hands-on training through accurate simulations of imitated medical emergency settings – ranging from labour and delivery to trauma and heart attacks – since the laboratory’s inauguration in 2014.
And through this, the facility has prepared students to operate in a pressurised work environment, enabling them to gain crucial experience in a range of realistic clinical scenarios before being faced with real patients and emergency situations.
“It is really high stakes because we are acting like the doll is a real person,” Nkuna added.
“So, if I fail on this doll, what are the chances that I am going to fail in real life?”
According to Professor Craig Lambert, head of the UJ’s department of emergency medical care, what makes the laboratory unique from other simulation facilities at university medical schools across the country is that it tracks the patient’s journey – right from when they are picked up on scene by paramedics to when they arrive and are assessed in hospital, and their stay in the hospital wards.
Hence, the laboratory is used to train a range of disciplines within the university’s faculty of health sciences.
It features recreated ambulance interiors with the relevant equipment; a life-size female doll that “gives birth” to a baby with a dangling umbilical cord, blood and all; wards with real monitors; arms with veins to demonstrate how to insert drips; and X-ray machines, among other items.
This week, health technology company Philips SA – which has donated most of the faculty’s existing equipment – renewed its memorandum of understanding with UJ’s health sciences faculty regarding the training and education of medical students, using the latest high-tech equipment.
At last month’s Presidential Health Summit, Deputy President David Mabuza emphasised the importance of having skilled and well-trained healthcare professionals to address some of the challenges that exist in the public health sector.
“Teamwork is what will take this country forward,” said Lambert.
“Partnerships between the public and private sector have, for many years, been regarded with scepticism. There is always a question of who is going to score in what, but this is a partnership that has really been a win-win.
“We have a facility here where our students are exposed to cutting-edge equipment and technology … gearing them to be worldwide citizens who can make their way in the world with every advantage that we can give them.
“When I was a student and I used to train, I would consider the stark difference between public and private facilities.
"And often, we students graduating from a public university would enter the workplace and see these wonderful pieces of new equipment – and we were scared to even touch them, with all their lights, bells and whistles. We wondered: ‘If only we’d been trained with such equipment.’”
Mbali Mbanjwa, a third-year diagnostic radiography student, echoes Lambert’s initial sense of intimidation when it comes to the X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging equipment.
“The first six months that we spent on campus, we did not use the simulation laboratory. When we first entered it, we thought that we would never be able to work with that kind of equipment because it was so intimidating. Now it is easy.
“And we have learnt the major role that each of the professions has in a patient’s journey – because we had a simulated experience of everyone working together at the same time and it taught us to respect one another,” she said.
Manoko Molabe, manager of the simulation laboratory, said that what gave her pride in the facility was knowing that once the students were done with their training and on their way into a real-world situation, they were “competently trained”.
“When they go into the real hospital environment, they are competent and familiar with equipment.
“We also evaluate them on how to insert drips and the dangers in inserting a drip incorrectly – and we can simulate when the drip is swelling. So, when they go out, they have my signature that they know what they are doing.”
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