High-tech mannequins in a newly-expanded Marquette University nursing lab are so lifelike that they can blink, breathe, bleed, perspire, go into cardiac arrest and even give birth.Marquette University School of Nursing senior Margaret Fonseca, left, Dr. Jill Guttormson, right, assistant professor of nursing, and senior Mary Coate Raynor, appearing in the mirror, work in a nursing lab funded by Wheaton Franciscan and General Electric at the Marquette University School of Nursing last November.  (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

These “patients” provide opportunities for students to learn and practice clinical skills, to be sure. By giving them names (“Susie,” “Hal” and “Noelle”) and realistic personal backgrounds, Marquette instructors can teach in other important ways.

“Every patient we have here has a story, and we think that’s essential,” said Margaret Faut Callahan, dean of the College of Nursing. “Gone are the days when we treat just a patient. We’re very much focused on the whole person, and there’s nothing more Jesuit than that.”

Marquette faculty and students quickly settled into the 10,000-square-foot learning lab, known as the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare Center for Clinical Simulation. Some two and a half years in the planning and construction, the $4 million center opened last semester thanks to a $1 million gift from Wheaton Franciscan and $440,000 worth of technology donated by GE Healthcare.

The center looks like a mini-hospital, starting with a receptionist area set up like a nurses’ station. A row of lockers is available to stow jackets, bulging backpacks and water bottles; here, students wear lab coats as they take on the role of professionals – yet another way to help “dispel disbelief,” as Callahan likes to say.

There are exam rooms, medical surgical rooms, patient care rooms for children and adults, an ICU, and a labor/delivery/postpartum care suite.

Equipment is everywhere: Monitors, bedside computers and medication carts.

Besides physical responses such as a rise in blood pressure, the mannequins – which cost $50,000 to $100,000 each – can be programmed to speak. Instructors in an adjoining room use a microphone to create the conversations.

“For me, it’s ‘to infinity and beyond,’” said Brenda Bowers, senior vice president of organizational change and leadership performance at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. “We’re limited only by our imaginations.”

Students’ work in the simulation center is videotaped so they – and even students who weren’t there – can see what went well and what can be improved.

Learning in the center is “at warp speed,” said teaching assistant Sarah Battani. “Students can have a simulation here within a half-hour that could take all day to develop in a hospital.”

One day last fall, Battani and Lisa Maas, another teaching assistant, worked with students on how to put in a breathing tube. Thanks to the authentic equipment, “students can go into clinical work and not have to learn how to use the machinery,” said Battani. “They can jump right into patient care.”

During their Marquette career, students are required to log more than 1,100 hours of clinical work in direct contact with patients and in the simulation center. Wheaton Franciscan, meanwhile, is using the center for ongoing training of its staff, giving students more opportunities to engage with those already in the workforce.

“For the first time, we’re seeing physicians and other clinicians coming to the nurses and saying, ‘Can we get in?’ ” said Bowers. “To me, that’s phenomenal.”

Engineers, marketing experts and lawyers who work in health care settings can benefit from seeing how the simulation clinic functions, Bowers added. GE Healthcare is eager to have biomedical engineering students work alongside nursing students, according to Callahan.

Sometimes, students or instructors role play as family members in the patient room, providing yet another element of learning.

“We can clearly see how students think and practice with them on those difficult conversations, such as end-of-life decisions or critical situations,” said Callahan. “We remind them that it is OK to bring spirituality into those conversations.”

With the nationwide shortage of nurses well documented, Marquette has admitted more students to its program the past few years. But even at 120 slots, the college has to turn away hundreds of applicants each year.

Nursing coursework at Marquette begins for freshmen with two classes focused on the Jesuit tradition in nursing and health care.

“I am told all the time by both alums and employers that Marquette nurses are indeed very, very different,” said Callahan. “We think it really is built on the fact that a Jesuit education indeed is different.”

Marquette’s nursing program once was located at St. Joseph Hospital, part of a 75-year-long relationship between the university and the health care system.

“At Wheaton Franciscan, we look at Francis and the role he played in helping our sponsors to evolve the ministry, whether it be housing or health care,” said Bowers. “From a philosophical standpoint, our values and vision align with Marquette’s.”