One of the things Anna Pocher has learned while studying to become a paramedic – along with anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, rescue-scene management – is that she learns by doing.
“It’s not just that you know what to do,” said Pocher, 20, who is halfway to a Wake Technical Community College Emergency Medical Science degree.
“It’s that you know that you can do it.”
Students such as Pocher will get more chances to practice the jobs they’re hoping to land since the school opened a new building on its Health Sciences Campus in Raleigh, which is outfitted to resemble as closely as possible the settings where they will work. WakeMed helps train students who come through Wake Tech’s medical sciences programs, and students who graduate in December or next spring will soon be looking for jobs at that hospital and others in the area.
On Tuesday, as visitors toured the new building, Pocher and several of her classmates went through a training scenario in which a bicyclist had been hit by an SUV. The car, the driver, the ambulance and the students were real; the cyclist was an interactive $15,000 mannequin that lay on the floor of the building’s ambulance bay, his chest going up and down with each mechanical breath.
Elsewhere in the building, radiology students will be able to practice taking X-rays of mannequins and of each other, and nursing students will work in mock hospital rooms tending mannequins that blink their eyes, display vital signs according to what ails them, and “talk” with the help of instructors watching through a window.
All their activities can be videotaped so that students and instructors can review their medical techniques as well as the ways in which they relate to patients and distressed family members.
“What happens here matters,” Dr. William Atkinson II, president and CEO of WakeMed Health & Hospitals, told a small crowd during a ribbon-cutting at the new building. The professionals trained there are the people who will be taking care of us, Atkinson said, and they need to be not only educated in their specialties, but also compassionate in the way they work with patients and their families.
“It’s not only about your mind. It’s about your heart,” he said of working in health care.
In a 12-county region around the Research Triangle Economic Development Region, “health care and social assistance” was the largest single job category in 2012, employing 132,445 people, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
Wake Tech’s nursing program, whose graduates saw their job-placement rate drop during the worst of the recession, is now seeing 98 percent of its grads find jobs. Radiography grads have an employment rate of 85 to 90 percent, instructors said.
Those are among 16 programs offered on the Health Sciences Campus, including dental assisting, magnetic resonance imaging, pharmacy technology and therapeutic massage.
A better way to train
Dixie Kennedy, who was in the first nursing class when Wake Tech opened for business in 1963, came from her home in North Raleigh to tour the new building, adjacent to WakeMed. In her day, she said, students learned to start intravenous fluids and draw blood by sticking one another. They had a few mannequins, but they were of the old department-store variety.
Thirty-six students started that year, she said, and 11 graduated, Kennedy included.
Right now, the nursing program has 284 students, all of whom will spend time in the new building, which cost $20 million to build and $4.4 million to outfit. An adjacent parking deck cost another $7.4 million.
The project was paid for by bonds approved by Wake County voters in 2007.
The building’s technology has attracted interest from around the country. Earlier this month, Wake Tech hosted a one-day seminar for educators interested in simulation-based training.
Just this week, nursing students Marjorie Flippo and Renel Bowen have been using mannequins to practice catheter insertion, and in a mother-baby class they’re taking, they’ll be introduced to a pregnant mannequin that can give birth to a little plastic baby.
Training scenarios are a great way to learn, Flippo said; they give students a chance to test their knowledge in what can seem like chaotic circumstances, with a doctor calling orders, a patient shouting in pain and family members crowded around trying to help.
That kind of practice, Flippo said, “gives you the confidence to do what you have learned how to do.”