High-tech and high-touch: FIU introduces ‘virtual’ dissection

Dr. Carmen Caicedo, assistant professor, shows nursing students different views of the human anatomy that can be studied on The Anatomage Table.
Dr. Carmen Caicedo, assistant professor, shows nursing students different views of the human anatomy that can be studied on The Anatomage Table. For the Miami Herald

Victoria gives birth up to 19 times a day.

No, she’s not a medical miracle. She’s an interactive mannequin in the Simulation Teaching And Research (STAR) Center’s clinical skills lab at Florida International University’s Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences. And she’s not even the most impressive piece of technology in the center.

FIU’s STAR Center added two “virtual” dissection tables to the center’s clinical skills lab in May. Made by a company called Anatomage at $70,000 per unit, the tables display the human anatomy in life-size scale and lifelike 3-D. The virtual bodies can be rotated, cut, and peeled down to see each layer of the human body — skin, muscles, bones, organs and veins.

“It’s like a big iPad,” said Dr. Helen Cornely, associate dean of FIU’s College of Nursing.

The tables, which will be incorporated into the college’s curriculum beginning in the fall, can display male or female bodies, along with different body parts and fetal anatomy on a table more than seven feet long.

“The difference when you see it actually life-size versus trying to look at a little picture and trying to figure out what it looks like on a real person, it’s a huge dynamic,” said Cornely.

The Anatomage tables are an example of the promise of high tech to expand and streamline education. They also can also be used to review X-rays, MRI’s and CT scans or rolled into auditoriums to project images on screens for larger anatomy classes.

General nursing students can use the tables to learn anatomy and physiology, while physical therapy students can use the tables to study the muscle and nervous systems. Nurse anesthetist students can practice observing the anatomy when standing at the patient’s head, which they would do in an operating room. There is also another benefit.

“It smells a lot better than a gross anatomy lab, which is a plus,” said Dr. Henry Henao, director of the STAR Center.

The tables can’t replace working hands-on with real cadavers, but Cornely said the virtual bodies give students the chance to practice and review normal and abnormal anatomy, with better accessibility than with a cadaver.

“What’s different here is you have the opportunity to visualize [the body] all at once,” Cornely said. “When you’re doing anatomy with the cadaver, you usually have to cut it all up. So you’re only looking at pieces. Here you look at the whole thing at once and get a really good feel as to how things fit and work together.”

Cornely also said the tables are also easier to take care of than real cadavers.

“There’s a lot of work to keep all of those cadavers,” Cornely said. “The chemicals and all of that are really not that great for either the human or the environment.”

Ora Strickland, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said somewhere between 500 and 600 students in the nursing school and other undergrad and graduate programs will use the tables each year.

“One of the reasons [the tables] are so important is that they help us educate a larger number of healthcare professionals than we would be able to do if we totally relied on clinics,” said Strickland. “Hospitals can only take a certain amount [of students] for clinicals and internships.”

The Anatomage tables are the newest edition to FIU’s STAR Center, which opened in 2010. Barry University and Nova Southeastern University also offer similar tables. FIU’s center also includes eight simulation bays that are set up to resemble a real hospital, where nursing and other health science students learn physical skills and patient care. Henao, STAR Center director, said the simulations provide a space for students to make mistakes without risking the health of a patient.

“We know we’re all human. We know students particularly are going to make mistakes,” Henao said. “We celebrate those mistakes when they occur here because that’s one less mistake they’ll actually make in the clinical setting or wherever they may be practicing.”

The STAR Center has 30 high-fidelity interactive mannequins that are used in the simulation bays. In addition to Victoria, other mannequins in the clinical skills lab can talk, scream, blink, breath and even foam at the mouth. Students can take the mannequins’ pulse, administer medicines and practice caring for a patient and his or her family.

Each simulation is recorded from an adjacent control room. Students and their professors may replay it to review mistakes and offer tips. Cornely said the simulation practice offers consistency and a range of experiences that real-world clinics cannot provide.

“We know that every single one of our students will see a birth and delivery. Every single one of our students will see a cardiac event,’’ she said. “You may not have that when you go to a clinic.”

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