Making the Grade: Medical program exposes students to many facets

Send us your storiesEach week we look at programs, projects and other successful endeavors at area schools —- from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.

Information about Gwinnett Technical College:

Visitors to Gwinnett Technical College in mid-April may have been surprised to find themselves not on a college campus but in the middle of a hospital zone. From EMTs helping blood-covered accident victims to a surgery in progress, various areas of the Lawrenceville campus became a medical center for the day during a simulation designed to give students in the Health Sciences program the feel of working with real patients in critical situations.

For years, individual programs including radiology, nursing, ultrasound and respiratory care have hosted their own simulation days. But four years ago, faculty brainstormed about combining their individual events into one.

“We thought it would be great to pull all the programs together into one simulation of a hospital,” said Steven Moyers, Gwinnett Tech’s dean of Health Sciences. “We finally decided this would be the year to do it.”

The idea soon expanded to include students from nearby Georgia Gwinnett College’s nursing program. More than 160 participants took on the roles of paramedics, surgeons, patients and more for a full day of unexpected challenges.

“The day was designed to simulate any given day in a hospital,” said Moyers. “Our EMT and paramedic students were responding to calls on campus. We had donated ambulances they used to transport patients to the mock emergency room where nursing students and real ER physicians provided orders. Patients were taken for x-rays or ultrasounds or prepped for surgery. Some patients were transferred to our mock intensive care unit where nurses provided care. We used mannequins with fake skin and organs so the students could cut into them. It was very realistic.”

The goal of the project was to provide another level of education to students getting ready to work in the real world, said Moyers. “They’ve got classroom, lab and clinical setting time, but putting them through an intensive simulation would show how well they could do on their own. It was also important for students to see how in the clinical environment, they’re not just limited to their own areas. A lot of times when they go into a clinical environment, respiratory therapists stay with respiratory therapists; radiologists stay in radiology. This simulation gave students a better sense of the interdisciplinary working of all departments. Communication among the disciplines was a key element of the day.”

Seeing how respiratory therapists interacted with nurses was a highlight for student Danielle Hardwick, a student in the respiratory care program.

“When they first told us about it, I was a little bit nervous,” said the Conyers resident. “I hadn’t worked in a hospital before. I still have more to learn, but it made me feel more confident about what I already know.”

Mary Ellen Pilitowski, a student in the advanced EMT program, said the simulation put skills to the test in a realistic way. During the event, she and a partner acted as first responders, answering 911 calls, stabilizing patients and even dealing with the unruly bystanders (played by well-coached student volunteers).

“Our first call was a car accident, and we had to get people out of the car,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking - they were covered in fake blood. We then had gun shot wounds to the chest and an open femur fracture from a motorcycle accident. That one was very realistic, especially because the girl kept screaming.”

The response to the simulation was so positive that Moyers sees it becoming an annual event.

“Everyone was so excited they’d like to do it on a semester basis, but it’s a big production to pull off,” he said. “Our plan now is keep doing it in the spring.”