sims lab – the practice

Invited to visit the Sims Lab at the Phoenix Biomedical campus, I think – mannequin designed to simulate human vital signs – things like breath and pulse. I don’t imagine a complete hospital environment – including sounds – High Fidelity Simulation. I can’t know I’ll meet numerous mannequins including smaller trainers.

Briana walks me into an area that’s ready for an OB lab. She refers to the trainers, I assume she is talking about students in training. I see no students. A trainer, I learn, is a tool, equipment and/or technology, shaped like a human body (full or partial) aiding in the teaching/learning process in medical school. Briana  pulls out a couple of them and explains their use to me.

We move into another room and come across a full body mannequin on a hospital bed, in what appears like an operating room/lab. Briana apologizes for the mess. Mess? I see sterile and clean. She points to things that are out-of-order. In an emergency situation where seconds matter, equipment and tools are in their place.

I touch the mannequin. I’m relieved he doesn’t feel real, at least not the skin surface. Briana helps me to feel organs and bones.

We head down the hallway to meet Victoria (below), a birthing mannequin. Yes, a mannequin that gives birth. Here is where I get a better sense of what high fidelity simulation means.

Briana explains the mechanisms while I note a 2-way mirror.  Medical students learn to respond to a full birthing experience, including sound. As in real-life each birth, and so each simulation, is unique. It all goes smooth or it doesn’t.

We come across placenta sitting on a table (of course we do).

Briana: It is birthed 35-45 minute after baby.
Me: Are there contraction?
Briana: Yes.

Briana mentions placenta brain. The phrase, not necessarily the explanation, brings a visual to my mind.

Me: I understand it’s a part of the secondary endocrine system.
Briana: It carries all the hormones that mom and baby need.

Right at this point I notice Briana is pregnant. We talk about various cultural norms concerning placenta. She explains it is also freeze-dried, ground and encapsulated, so mom (and nursing baby) may continue to benefit from the nutritious placenta for a good while after delivery.

Across the room I see 2 more mannequins – male and female. As we exit, I’m glad to know Victoria isn’t alone.

Briana: Let’s go see the kiddos!
Me: Kiddos?
We enter a smaller dark area. Lights come on bright and for a second I feel like I’m backstage at a theater production.  

Briana: Victoria’s bellies are hidden back here.
Me: Victoria’s bellies?!
Three fabulous bellies! As I write this I don’t recall if Briana says this or I do. I think she says it and I feel it true – they are fabulous! …and in various stages of pregnancy siting across the narrow table.

I learn about Leopold’s maneuvers.

And then I meet the kiddos… I hold one and as directed I roll it tightly in my hands like it might be while in utero. It is smooshy, flexible and surprisingly heavy. Average weight, Briana notes.

She then opens up the less common vertical C-section belly (below) and calls out the layers. Particularly interested in fascia, it’s the only layer (white) I focus on.

Off to stage right is the plug-in station …
I don’t say this but i think it. Babies, they lighten everything up.

We walk into a few more mock hospital rooms that include infants and young children on gurneys. Briana wipes the eyes of one of the mannequins and cleans the mouth of another. I sober up understanding the elements in these environments are for training students before they meet real people in real events.

Completing the tour, I ask about the student’s emotions and reactions. Yes, these are also part of the learning experience. It’s all about the full practice of medicine.

Briana works at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in the Center for Simulation and Innovation. Her background is in Cardiology and Cardiology Intensive Care.
She heads off to a meeting and I return to my studio.

Photo from the Tempe History Museum currently on view – 4th floor HSEB.

Note:
While I walk across the hall and take the 4 flights of stairs down – again I can’t help but think about being an artist. I especially appreciate the unusual experiences my work brings me. I could not have imagined any of this in all my years of art school.

Thank you Briana. We both have newborns in the planning – mine will be in 2D (probably on canvas) while yours will show up in 3D (real-life). Best wishes!


My artwork – Nothing In Stasis (solo exhibition) is on view through the first week of April.
Monday-Friday, 9-5

At the Health Sciences Education Building
Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC)
435 N. 5th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2230
Map (PDF)
Parking Information

Health Science Education Building

a ceremony of appreciation

Invited by Dr. Jen Hartmark-Hill,  I make my way to downtown Phoenix for a Ceremony of Appreciation. The event, organized by the Medical and Allied Health students at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, honors individuals who donate their bodies to the anatomy lab.

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Upon arriving I meet Dr. Rebecca Fisher, the director of the Clinical Anatomy lab. She tells me about the personal connection students have to a willed body donor. She shares both the educational aspects as well as some of the emotional impact the experience holds for everyone. I look around the room as we talk and I see students, faculty and their families (newborns are in the mix too). The energy is celebratory as everyone prepares.

The evening includes art, poetry, prose, and music (ukulele, piano, song and dance).

One student names his donor Bruce. You looked like a Bruce to me, he reads into the microphone. Another student tells of holding the hands of her donor and notes the nail polish, chips of color. One guesses the age of his donor and wonders out loud, are you a grandfather?

There is practical (medical) information they gather from their donor’s body along with a natural wonder and  curiosity about the life it held.

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I can’t help but make connections between art students and medical students and their draw to the human body. I have to wonder, do they learn about Leonardo da Vinci in medical and science labs?

The medical students describe the learning experience as 2D (text book or diagram) and compare it to 3D (real-life) experience. Artists use a similar language. Art students study Anatomy (for the artist) to understand the skeletal and muscular system. The study is followed by Life drawing where art students apply what they’ve learned to a live model. Learned and necessary skills to both medicine and art are observation and attention to detail.

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And speaking of detail…
The student who draws this skull and heart ↑ is named Dylan. I introduce myself to him and congratulate his fine work.

I appreciate the imaginative way he personalized the drawings (of his donor). Dylan includes the usual anatomical description seen in medical illustration like frontal bone and then he adds more individualized (and more telling of the human-being) descriptions like bank teller, sweet toothjeopardy loversingle mother, grandmother…etc.

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As I thank Jen (Dr. Harmtark-Hill) for inviting me, we agree the evening is moving and meaningful. And before we part for the evening  she mentions an approach to education that she calls  Appreciative Inquiry.

 I often speak with my colleagues about the fact that we are privileged to teach these medical students—they are incredibly good and altruistic individuals. If we can find ways to protect that compassion, kindness and caring throughout their medical training, while instilling knowledge and skills, we will have done their future patients a great service.

I understand Appreciative Inquiry to be a way of seeing (worldview) and a way of being (process) that supports the goodness in people (individuals, organizations and communities).

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A letter written to a donor and expressing gratitude.

Thank you Jen for inviting me to this most extraordinary ceremony. And thanks to the students for a creative and moving evening.


As I come to the end of my post I can’t help but think of a phrase that influences the work I do. I know with certainty it directs me to unique experiences like this one.

Summum bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.

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