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Nursing students get hands on experience thanks to high-tech dummies

USC's high-tech nursing lab helps students get experience without practicing on actual patients, yet.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The College of Nursing at USC uses a high-tech simulation lab to give students hands-on experience. 

The latest technology is helping the university address South Carolina’s nursing shortage and healthcare for at-risk communities. 

The labs have mannequins that allow nursing students to practice real world medicine on them before heading to hospitals and actual living patients. 

Nursing student Brianna McErlane said the mannequins allow them to practice checking "pulse, blood pressure, respirations, even practice putting urinary catheters on and it’s really cool."

She added that the simulation lab prepares her for clinicals.

“It’s a lot more practice, if we make a mistake at least it’s not on a real person, we know what to do and how to learn from that mistake,” McErlane said. 

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The lab’s director, Dr. Crystal Murillo, says it helped students progress when they weren’t allowed in hospitals due to COVID-19.

"Simulation was the solution for us to keep our students moving forward during the pandemic,” said Murillo.

The simulations help the nurse shortage because more students will graduate ready to help real patients, according to Murillo, since they get more hands-on experience during the pandemic. 

On top of mannequins, they also have people come in to act as patients.

Murillo added “we will not see a decrease in our number of graduates because of what’s happening with COVID."

USC’s lab was one of five in the nation to recently get a $500,000 grant to enhance lessons on the social and cultural effects of healthcare.

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Thanks to the funds, the lab was able to purchase a new mannequin: The first one the program has had that represents a person of color.

Murillo added that the mannequin is "the first to arrive in a stand-alone program of nursing in the state. It goes beyond representation, but it does start with representation being so important."

One mannequin can cost $110-150,000, according to Murillo. 

The grant will also fund courses that focus on helping patients in at-risk populations and those of various religious and cultural backgrounds.