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Sharp's learning labs ‘stars’ make simulations realistic

By The Health News Team | September 19, 2023
Carmen N. Spalding at the Sharp Prebys Innovation and Education Center

Carmen Spalding demonstrates the capabilities of one of Sharp's high-fidelity manikins — realistic patient simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology.

The first thing that stuck out about simulation labs, designed to replicate clinical health care settings and provide immersive learning experiences, to Carmen N. Spalding, PhD, RN, wasn’t the technology, the size of the rooms, or the processes set in place. It was the actors who made the simulations so believable that captivated her. 

“We would train them to be a patient with pneumonia, and you could see them having trouble breathing,” Spalding says. “They emulated a person that had pneumonia so well that you forgot they were actually actors. That’s when the light bulb lit up and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’” 

Spalding was hired as Sharp HealthCare's director of simulation and innovative learning in February 2023. Working at the Sharp Prebys Innovation and Education Center’s Terrence and Barbara Caster Institute for Nursing Excellence, she leads immersive programs to enhance health care workers’ experience so they can be better prepared for working with patients in clinical scenarios.  

"We are grateful for Carmen and her expertise and generosity as she leads our simulation program forward," said Bill Littlejohn, senior vice president and CEO of the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare. “Philanthropy is helping Sharp to be the best place to work by providing advanced training and learning through both the Caster Institute and the Brown Simulation Center."

Cutting edge technology paired with real-life scenarios

At the James S. Brown Simulation Center, doctors, nurses and pharmacists will use both high-fidelity manikins — realistic patient simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology — and human actors as standardized patients, depending on the purpose of the simulation. For example, if a critical piece to the training is communication, they will use people.

"The manikin can demonstrate a lot of the physiology that we can’t have a human do,” Spalding says. “I can’t change a person’s heart rate, but on the manikin, I can. However, because using a human being is the most realistic modality we have, if there’s a way we can use a human, I will try to use a human."

Spalding, who earned her master's degree in nursing from San Diego State University in 2010, worked with simulation labs at University of San Diego, Azusa Pacific University and the Naval Medical Center San Diego prior to starting at Sharp. Following her every step of the way have been her actors — one of whom, she proudly says, earned a role in a soap opera. 

“I love working with them,” Spalding says. “They’re such amazing and incredible people.” 

Sharing her time, talent and treasure

The actors are the reason that upon joining Sharp, Spalding says she wanted to make an immediate donation. At the James S. Brown Simulation Center, she donated a naming gift to the standardized patient changing room, dedicating it to the actors she has relied on to expand simulation use and "help bring health care education to life."

“I love that I was able to honor my actors,” Spalding says. “They’ve been incredibly loyal to me. They’ve followed me around. They’ve been patient with me as I’ve tried to build programs."

Among Spalding's goals include gaining accreditation through the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, possibly partnering with additional universities, and expanding her team. She’s already looking forward to the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare in January 2024, where topics like virtual reality, innovative technology, and best practices in health care simulation will be discussed. 

“The future is bright, and the opportunity is vast,” Spalding says. “We’re all in this together to build a better Sharp. It’s really our way of being able to pay it forward.”

Learn more about how to support the Sharp Prebys Innovation and Education Center.

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