Bringing medical training into the 21st century

Medical students
Dr. Joshua Chinks leads an intubation workshop with students at the Medical Simulation Centre.

No one expects a pilot to learn how to fly a 747 with a full load of passengers – that’s why flight simulators are an industry standard. And emergency responders don’t wait for an actual disaster in order to train for that eventuality. So why should an aspiring surgeon have to learn the practical basics of his or her profession in a live operating theatre?

It’s still early days for the field of medical simulation when compared to aviation, but seven years into its operations, the Arnold and Blema Steinberg Medical Simulation Centre has put McGill’s Faculty of Medicine on the leading edge of health care education and training.

Established largely through a trailblazing Campaign donation from McGill Chancellor H. Arnold Steinberg, BCom’54, LLD’00, and Professor Emeritus Blema Steinberg, BA’55, PhD’61, the Centre is now transforming education for medical students, residents, nurses and other allied health professionals at McGill. Medical simulation allows a high level of control for each lesson taught, from basic bedside training to complex surgical procedures. By systematizing this training and making it more efficient, medical errors are minimized.

“The goal is to make the whole health system better and safer,” says former Director Kevin Lachapelle, MDCM’88. “Where critiques and self-critiques are in the culture, where it's recognized that mistakes are made. We already produce good doctors and nurses; now there's a better and faster way to train them.”

At the Centre’s technical training facilities, the high-fidelity mannequins that students work with can behave with life-like accuracy, their vital signs fed to the same monitoring systems found in hospital wards, their responses mimicking real complications during medical procedures. Students can practice everything from giving injections and tying sutures, to inserting chest tubes and performing biopsies. And the critical, split-second teamwork between doctors and nurses in responding to emergency trauma can be played out in the Centre with no danger to real accident victims. “It’s really a multidisciplinary, inter-professional Centre,” says Lachapelle.

Simulation is not just limited to high-tech plastic torsos or computer monitors. Using specially trained human actors, students learn how to communicate better during examinations and perfect their bedside manners by dealing with complex dynamics with patients and their families. Their interactions are captured on camera for instructors or other observers to watch from a feed into a classroom, and the video is reviewed so that students can analyze and learn from their own performance.

The generosity of the Steinbergs served as a catalyst for getting the Centre off the ground and has inspired many others to contribute. Its construction and operations have benefited from the support of over two dozen donors, including John Cleghorn, BCom’62, LLD’04, and Pattie Cleghorn, CertEd’62; Theresa McLoud, MDCM’68; and Mark Abelson, BSc’66, MDCM’70, and Annalee Abelson, BA’68, MSc’71, PhD’81.

Arnold Steinberg is passionate about the promise the Centre holds. “I believe that the Simulation Centre has the opportunity to change the whole way medicine is practised in terms of how patients are treated. It’s very likely it will save thousands of lives.”

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