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Life-size 'patients' provide valuable experience to University of Utah nursing students

SALT LAKE CITY — The patients the nursing students at the University of Utah will be working on this year aren't real — but they're pretty close.

Life-size, computerized Manikins are just one of the upgrades at the newly renovated College of Nursing building on campus.

"It's good hands-on experience. It's nice to have them," said first-year nursing student Nick Phillips. "We don't have clinical days, and so we don't have scenarios we can't plan."

The Manikins are one of the highlights of the $24 million restoration to the entire building and can be found in the Intermountain Healthcare Simulation Learning Center, which is a virtual hospital. It has the same technology and equipment, such as, electronic health records systems and medication dispensing units, that graduates will find in hospitals.

In the past, there were only pictures on the wall of such equipment.

Though students have been working in the new rooms this school year, the building officially opened Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and tours are available to the public.

"Simulation-based learning gives students the chance to respond to real-life, patient-care management situations as they would occur in a hospital or in-patient settings, but in the safety of a structured, practice environment," said dean Maureen R. Keefe.

"Students gain clinical reasoning skills, confidence and hands-on experience, which can lead to improved patient safety and enhanced patient-care delivery."

This 12,600-square-foot virtual hospital was made possible by a $4 million gift from Intermountain Healthcare and designed by GSBS Architectures.

The complete five-story facility is named in honor of Annette Cumming, a College of Nursing alumna. The main floor houses a computer lab and open-air spaces. The Emma Eccles Jones Nursing Research Center is now on the fifth floor.

The renovations also include safety and technology updates, a new auditorium, classrooms and more faculty offices.

"We now have the latest tools and technology for educating health care practitioners, conducting patient-centered research and leading clinical practice innovations at our fingertips," said Keefe.

The renovations began four years ago, and the 42-year-old building presented many challenges for architects, including the presence of lead and asbestos, said Nils Eddy, project manager with GSBS Architects, who designed and built the Simulation Learning Center.

One of the rooms, which now serves as a virtual hospital with 10 beds for "patients" but also has chairs set up in the middle for learning, presented a unique challenge. It used to be a parking lot, and the floor was sloped. That's not good when all the equipment in the room is on wheels.

The cost of all the renovations was publicly and privately funded. Project managers say the building exceeds the criteria of the State of Utah High Performance Building Rating System while meeting the university's goal for sustainable design and energy efficiency.

The building is now eligible for a LEED certification at the gold level for its water-use reduction, construction recycling and indoor environmental quality.