July 21, 2012

New class of future doctors will learn on simulators

Gone are the days when the first time a doctor treats a wound or performs a tracheotomy is on a live patient.

Gone are the days when the first time a doctor treats a wound or performs a tracheotomy is on a live patient.

Students at the University of South Carolina’s new medical school in Greenville, which is opening this month, will work on realistic human simulators that breathe, have heart beats and give birth. Computer programs and teachers rate the students’ performance on the artificial patients.

“This gives us an opportunity to train the next generation of doctors differently,” said Brenda Thames, vice president of academics at Greenville Hospital System, which has teamed with USC on the new medical school.

The school, which enrolls its first class of 53 students in less than two weeks, leases two of three floors of a new $60 million building on the hospital’s campus.

The other floor contains the simulation center, operated by the hospital. That center, which opened Friday, is part of a statewide network developed by Dr. John Schaefer, an endowed chair at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Other schools and emergency responders can use the simulators as well as USC’s Upstate medical school students, which will number 275 in four years.

Greenville has housed a simulation center for several years, but the new home includes more room and more state-of-the-art equipment.

The center features a delivery room, a nursery, a heart-patient room, an intensive-care unit and an operating room. Software programs can change scenarios in the patients – filled with high-tech machinery – such as suddenly having a patient start bleeding or develop an irregular heartbeat. Simulation center software programs developed by Schaefer’s team are being sold worldwide.

“It was patients I was learning on,” Schaefer said. “That’s going to change.”

The center was dedicated in the name Lewis Blackman, a 15-year-old Columbia resident who died in 2000 after mistakes by doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“If this works as it should, this should give them the ability to have someone to call to recognize an emergency and respond in the way they should,” said Blackman’s mother, Helen Haskell, who wears a necklace with her son’s first and middle names that she made a year after his death. “I did not expect a lot of response from the medical community (after he died), but this is overwhelming. The whole focus on patient safety has been tremendously rewarding. But we still have a long way to go.”

USC’s medical school students have built ties with the Greenville Hospital System for years. Third- and fourth-year medical school students from the medical school’s Columbia campus have gone to Greenville since 1991 so they can work closely with its hospital system and network of doctors, said Dr. Jerry Youkey, dean of the USC School of Medicine Greenville.

The new four-year school itself is not using state money, though the simulation center, operated by the hospital, received $2.5 million from the General Assembly. The $186 million school is being paid for by the Greenville hospital, and student tuition and fees.

The Greenville school will have a different research concentration than the state’s two other medical programs in Columbia and Charleston. Those schools look at discovering new drugs, while the Greenville campus will examine clinical research and delivery – such as why a third of patients don’t take their medications, Youkey said.

The new medical school students also will work on a more global approach to care.

Students will start with six weeks of emergency-medical technician training. During the year, they will serve monthly shifts with Greenville responders, Youkey said. They also will follow a patient from the emergency scene through their hospital stay and even after they have gone home.

They will work with pharmacy and anesthetist nursing students taking classes on the hospital campus, too.

“This is a team sport,” Youkey said.

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