Practice Makes Perfect Inside Mayo Clinic’s Simulation Centers

From the realistic looking wounds to the high-tech manikins, everything in Mayo's Simulation Centers is geared toward teaching providers how to help their future patients.

Amy Lannen often leaves notes warning her colleagues not to eat the Jell-O, cocoa powder, oatmeal and other foods she keeps on a shelf at work. It's not that she's a snack hoarder. (At least not that we know of.) Lannen's goodies are actually the tools of her trade. Lannen, who works at the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Simulation Center on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, uses the pantry staples to create wounds and bruising on actors pretending to be patients.

It's called "moulage," she tells the Mayo Clinic News Network, and "it's the art of making something look realistic even though it's not actually happening. So we can make someone look like they have a gash on their forehead or a black eye, even though they're not in any actual pain."

Lannen's handiwork helps health care providers learn how to treat injuries and diagnose conditions — without having to practice on real patients. It's just one type of training happening at Mayo's simulation centers in Florida, Arizona and Minnesota.

"There's no substitute for actually doing something, and this is an opportunity to do it in a safe place," Leslie Simon, D.O., an emergency medicine physician and co-director of the simulation center at Mayo Clinic in Florida, tells KTTC-TV's Tom Overlie. So safe that Overlie recently handed over his camera and took a turn playing doctor. "I didn't expect to deliver a 'practice' baby while on tour," he says. But he "donned garment and gloves, and got to work," interacting with one of the center's high-tech manikins, which can be programmed to realistically mimic hundreds of scenarios. "You want something as close to the real thing as possible so that when you react to that and get those steps down you do the same thing in real life," Michael Maniaci, M.D., co-director of the Florida center, tells KTTC.

In addition to manikins and moulage, the centers also boast high-tech tools such as the Anatomage, a "virtual dissection table used by nurses, doctors and surgeons to train, rehearse, save time and save lives." Overlie reports that the tool was "recently used in practice sessions to trim nearly five hours off of one man's surgery by giving surgeons time to try different ideas and find a more efficient route."

And that — making a real difference to real patients — is what the simulation centers are all about. "I know that I'm directly impacting patients through all of the learners that come to the sim center," Lannen says. "I'm not treating patients, but I'm helping their treatment get better by doing what I do in sim."

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