Mike Krowka practices on a computerized mannequin.
Students come from all over the country for the opportunity to work with “Elvis” and “Stevie Ray.” Mike Krowka of Rochester, Minn., is among the students in Western's emergency medical care program learning to meet the challenges of real-world medical emergencies through hands-on training with state-of-the-art computerized mannequins.

CULLOWHEE – Students in Western Carolina University's emergency medical care program are learning from a real dummy these days.

The dummy in question is a state-of-the-art computerized mannequin called a “SimMan,” or “simulated man.” Western Carolina is one of only two emergency medical care training programs in the state to use the $30,000 apparatus in preparing paramedic students to meet the challenges of real-world medical emergencies.

The lifelike mannequin is controlled by an instructor at a nearby computer, who can test the students with a variety of patient care scenarios.

“I can make him breathe, I can make his pulse rate go up or down, I can adjust the rate of respiration and I can change his blood pressure, all with the push of a button,” said Mike Hubble, director of Western's emergency medical care program. “I can manipulate his airways to simulate a number of different conditions our students might face when they are trying to insert a breathing tube. His tongue swells. He talks. He even pukes.”

Students have nicknamed the mannequin “Stevie Ray” after late guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan. The name follows a pattern established by an earlier version of the computerized mannequin nicknamed “Elvis.”

“In one of the first scenarios with the first mannequin, I had the students respond to an emergency call in which a middle-aged man had collapsed in the bathroom,” Hubble said. “One of the students said, ‘Hey, that's how they found Elvis.' And the name stuck.”

Because Stevie Ray is more technologically advanced than Elvis, students have been working primarily with the newer version. “But don't worry – Elvis has not left the building,” Hubble said. “He's just down the hall in a laboratory used by junior-level students.”

In keeping with the tribute to late rock stars theme, students are considering a musical nickname for the latest addition to Western's collection of patient-simulating mannequins, a small blond child. The leading contender is Kurt – as in Kurt Cobain, late singer for the rock group Nirvana.

While the emergency medical care students have fun coming up with goofy names for the computerized mannequins, Stevie Ray, Elvis and Kurt are invaluable classroom tools for the emergency medical care profession.

“They are more than just dummies. They are high-tech learning tools,” said Nick Jarman, a senior emergency medical care major from Duplin County. “They are as realistic as we can get without actually working on a live human being. And that's pretty priceless in terms of getting the kind of training we need for the situations we'll face in the field as paramedics. These mannequins really force us to be problem-solvers. We're forced to think on our feet, to evaluate the situation, then re-evaluate based on whatever changes the professor throws at us.”

Health care employers are apparently seeing the value of the high-tech training, as the majority of the 2004 graduating class from Western's emergency medical care program had jobs lined up before they even set foot on the stage for commencement, said Denise Wilfong, assistant professor of health sciences.

The problem-solving skills students gain from working with Stevie Ray and Elvis are manifesting themselves in other ways, too. Emergency medical care students from Western posted a perfect 100 percent pass rate on the national paramedic licensing exam earlier this spring.

“This is an incredibly difficult exam, with a national pass rate of 67 percent,” Hubble said. “We have never experienced a 100 percent pass rate at Western, nor am I aware of any other schools that have. Needless to say, we are certainly pleased with the performance of our seniors.”

Western Carolina was the first U.S. institution to offer a four-year degree in emergency medical care, and is today one of only 14 in the nation offering the degree. Western's program is accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of Education Programs for the EMS Professions.

For information about Western's emergency medical care program, call (828) 227-7113 or visit on the Web at http://emc.wcu.edu .

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Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University