January 28, 2013

Veterinary Simulation Center Features Robotic Pets

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The world’s first simulation center to use robotic pet animals to teach veterinary science now has a place to call home at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

After he designed his first robotic dog in 2010, Prof. Daniel Fletcher, emergency and critical care, decided to start the simulation center, which uses robotic pets as mock patients for students to practice simulated emergency situations.

Fletcher said the simulation center has grown from an office in the vet school’s basement to two fully-equipped exam rooms, two rooms for live observation and debriefing and more space for designing new robo-pet models.

“The first classes got to use the simulation center this past fall, with five students acting out the simulation at a time and another ten [students] observing,” Fletcher said.

The classes focused on skills such as communicating with clients, performing CPR in emergency situations and working with others in stressful situations, according to Fletcher.

“Working with the robotic pet models in the simulation center helps students bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and working on actual patients,” Fletcher said.

The center also fosters confidence in students to operate on live animals, Fletcher said.

“My students can rattle off everything they need to do in an emergency if I ask them. It’s very different, however, when someone’s pet is in front of you,” Fletcher said. “Our simulations don’t replace real animals and emergencies, but [they provide students with] the opportunity to develop confidence in those situations.”

The procedures at the center help students receive feedback that they couldn’t have in a normal classroom setting, according to Sara Buckley grad, one of the first vet students to participate in simulations at the center in Fall 2012.

“Communication skills are definitely a huge part of the simulation center learning. [The robo-dog] feels like a real patient –– [it] has a heartbeat and everything –– but there is less stress than there might be in an actual emergency,” Buckley said.

The new simulation center provides valuable practice to prepare students for clinical situations, according to Enio Sanmarti grad.

“It’s not until you act on a clinical case that you appreciate how well-prepared the simulation makes you for difficult situations,” Sanmarti said.

Robotic patients and simulations such as those offered at the vet school have existed for decades in human medicine, Fletcher said. He said he first had the idea to apply this technology to a vet school in 2008.

Fletcher said his vision for the center surpasses the realm of the vet school to extend to the Ithaca community.

“I hope we can expand the center to also [help inform] the public. If your dog collapsed at home, what would you do until you could get them to the vet?” Fletcher said.

He said he hopes his efforts will increase public knowledge about veterinary science.

“I’m really interested in making this valuable to the whole community,” Fletcher said.

Original Author: Erika Hooker