Everything that happens in the Van Gerpen Patient Simulator Lab at Hawkeye Community College is focused on one thing: quality. It’s not just about the quality of the technology or the simulations it runs. It’s the quality of the educational experience and the quality of healthcare professionals that experience produces. 

“There are no shortcuts,” said Lee Ridge, simulation specialist. Ridge and Tiffany Meike, who coordinates the simulator lab, ensure the experiences in the lab are as close to real life as they can be. 

Use of the Van Gerpen Patient Simulator Lab is integrated into many health programs at Hawkeye Community College. During the Fall 2016 Semester, students in Nursing, Respiratory Care, and Emergency Medical Services programs completed 306.25 hours of simulations in the lab as part of their training.

“The only thing that isn’t real is the patient,” Ridge said. 

Located in Grundy Hall on Hawkeye’s Main Campus, the lab includes more than 20 simulators, from basic torsos to high-tech manikins. These specialized manikins represent different stages of life, from newborns, to the elderly. The more advanced manikins include cameras in the eyes and microphones in the ears, giving students the feeling of interacting with actual patients. They also act and react like real patients.

“They sweat, bleed, cry… whatever we want them to do,” Meike said. “We can have actual conversations with students. On day one students will come in here just for therapeutic communication skills.” 

The technology is impressive, but so is the behind-the-scenes work that ensures each simulation is enhancing the students’ learning experiences. A study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing showed that up to half of a student’s clinical experience can be completed using simulators without any impact on graduation rates, clinical competency, or NCLEX® pass rates. 

Most importantly, working with simulators allows students to experience things they might not see in months of clinical rotation.

“You don’t get to say who is in the hospital the day you’re there,” Meike said. “We can present a case they may not see in real life for many years.” 

The simulator lab also provides a safe environment to make mistakes.

“If you make a mistake in the lab, nobody suffers,” Meike said. “If you don’t practice it here, chances are you will make that mistake in real life. Before you leave, we’re going to go through your scenario again and let you leave with positive muscle memory.” 

Hawkeye has worked to integrate the use of patient simulators into various health programs, including Nursing, Respiratory Care, and Emergency Medical Services. Work is underway to integrate the use of the lab into the Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapist Assistant programs. 

“Everything has a purpose, everything is about standards and quality,” Ridge said.    

Jason Staker

Learn more about training for a healthcare career: 
or 319-296-4000