"Do you know what city you're in?" a paramedicine student asked a mannequin in a small hospital room at Coconino Community College's Fourth Street Campus last Thursday.
"It's Flagstaff," the mannequin responded as its chest filled with air and its eyes blinked.
Meet Tom, a "smart" mannequin that allows students in the Emergency Medical Technician, Paramedicine and Allied Health (Nursing and Medical Assistant) programs to practice their skills on humanlike subjects.
CCC has a total of four smart mannequins in its Medical Simulation Lab (SimLab): two adult males (including Tom), one juvenile and an adult female who is able to give birth.
Students can check these patients' vital signs, start an IV and even use the defibrillator on them when necessary. The mannequins will respond to students using the instructor's voice.
David Manning, EMT and Paramedic instructor at CCC, said, "The mannequins are able to function pretty much as a real patient. I'm tied in via camera and microphone so that I can sit in the control room or my office and run a scenario from there. The idea is, when a paramedic goes in to deal with a patient, the evaluator is not going to be there for information, so they have to get all of their information from the patient."
Each student is given a different scenario that ranges from the basics, like treating asthma or an allergic reaction, to more advanced trauma situations. Manning said the scenarios can be built and stored for future student use.
Prior to teaching, Manning was captain paramedic with the City of Flagstaff. He said these mannequins are a huge step up from the dummies he originally learned on.
Students also appreciate the advanced—albeit unsettling—technology available to them.
"It's a weird mindset just because you're talking to a dummy, and the dummy's talking back to you, but it's actually been pretty nice because it's easier than talking to a dumb mannequin," said Tyler Packer, a paramedicine student and EMT with the Ponderosa Fire Department in Bellemont.
Dawnae James works as an EMT at the Navajo Nation Emergency Medical Services and said working in the SimLab for her paramedicine studies has been a great opportunity.
"The first time I went in there, it was pretty scary for me, to be honest, because I'd never seen anything like this. I was so used to looking at my proctor and asking him questions rather than looking at the patient," she said. "It's a different feeling once you walk into that lab because you know that no one else is in that room. It's just you and the patient."
By interacting with the mannequins like they would with a real patient, students are already showing improvement in their practical skills.
Katherine Costa, director of the CCC nursing program, said students are more comfortable when they start working at local medical centers because the SimLab gave them the chance to learn from their own mistakes and from watching other students, without endangering anyone.
The lifelike quality of these mannequins is not their only notable feature, though.
Their home, the SimLab, is unlike other classrooms because it was custom built by students for students.
For 14 weeks, 45 construction technology management (CTM) students designed, researched and built the space that now resembles two hospital rooms with a "Control Room" for instructor observation through a one-way mirror and video stream in the middle.
CTM Instructor Ken Myers said this one-of-a-kind opportunity allowed his students to complete an entire project, including everything from pitching a design to their clients (instructors whose students would be using the lab) and managing the project to verifying all building codes and installing insulation, drywall, wiring, doors and windows.
The only thing the CTM students didn't do was apply the final coat of paint.
"I want to take [students] out of the book and have them touch and feel everything in an area that's not going to cost them any money or safety. They can only learn so much from a book," Myers said. "Every student who walked through that door learned something and I could see an 'Aha!' moment on their face when they walked out."
Manning said the project cost about $3,500 for students to complete instead of an estimated $30,000 by external construction companies. More than 90 percent of the funding was provided by local organizations.
Robert Kearns, one of the CTM students who worked on the project, said it was an awesome experience that fit well with other classes.
"The job site was right there next to our classroom, so it was pretty convenient," he said.
The success of the project has instructors like Manning hoping to repeat the process and expand the space available for students to work with the mannequins.
Myers said he expects similar opportunities for his students to come up in the future because of the benefit it has had across the college.
"Not only did our 45 students in the construction program learn something, but every nursing student and EMT and paramedic student that walks through those doors will learn something," he said.