Robots used to teach med students

PATIENT: Sixth-year Otago med students (L to R) Shakirah Green, Anna Hulme and Sam Kennedy work on "Alex" a high-tech mannequin. Picture Martin Hunter

The Star is running a series on the work of University of Otago researchers based at Christchurch Hospital, ahead of a public showcase on Sunday. This week we look at a how a sophisticated robot – Alex – is helping to teach medical students

Christchurch medical students are working with actors and a high-technology manikin to practise dealing with acute patient scenarios before encountering them in the real world.

Christchurch medical students are working with actors and a high-technology manikin to practice dealing with acute patient scenarios before encountering them in the real world.

The programme is being run by the University of Otago Christchurch’s Simulation Centre.

The Christchurch campus teaches students from their fourth to sixth years of medical school.

Centre director Dr MaryLeigh Moore said they used actors from Hagley Theatre Company as well as high-technology manikins to prepare students for practising medicine in the real world.

The Centre had rooms set up like a GP consultation room, a hospital ward, and an acute setting such as an intensive care or emergency department room, she said.

Dr Moore said in their sixth year, students (called trainee interns) took part in a scenario involving fictional patient Alan Gould.

Alan is played by an actor in much of the scenario – which saw him recovering from surgery for an appendicitis, developing a serious infection, and then being followed up after discharge from hospital.

Dr Moore said at the stage when Alan has an infection and is in the surgical high dependency unit, students interact with the centre’s high-technology manikin, a human simulator named Alex.

Alex can be programmed to simulate a myriad of medical situations and was voiced by an actor, she said.

“The initiative is designed to help the trainee interns transition from student to doctor and promote work readiness. In particular, the session focuses on ensuring patients whose health status is rapidly deteriorating receive appropriate and timely care. It also allows students to practice their communication skills and professionalism.’’

Dr Moore said senior medical professionals were involved in the programme, replicating as closely as possible a real clinical situation.

Hagley Theatre Company’s artistic director Cameron Mattox said the actors enjoyed working with the Simulation Centre to create a more realistic patient experience for medical students.

•There will be tours of the Simulation Centre at the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Showcase this Sunday from 1-5pm. The event will include tours of research laboratories and the medical simulation centre, interactive displays with the chance to speak with researchers, and a debate hosted by Gary McCormick on whether: “We can all live to 120 years”. Details at www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch

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