A dilemma in medical training programs is how to train students to perform difficult medical procedures before they ever have to try them on a patient. No patient wants to be a training case, but hands-on experience is vital if a student is going to master a procedure. Medical programs will use simulators for students to practice with, but it’s difficult to mimic the experience of working on a real patient. The sophisticated properties of 3D printing materials, however, and 3D printing’s ability to easily create custom models, means that the technology has opened up possibilities of creating lifelike simulators based on real patients.

Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville Dr. Lori Lioce, who also serves as the executive director of the College’s Learning and Technology Resource Center, began hearing about these 3D printed simulators at conferences on healthcare simulation, and wanted to try them with her own students. She asked Norven Goddard, a research scientist at UAH’s Systems Management and Production (SMAP) Center, if he could help develop new simulators for the nursing program.

“Norven mentioned that the SMAP Center has six 3-D printers,” says Dr. Lioce. “So I gave him a long list of what we needed and a bag of samples, and we collaborated on what he and his students could print.”

They started with a cricothyrotomy simulator. A cricothyrotomy is a procedure that is used to clear the airway when other methods are ineffective, and while it is typically not part of an undergraduate nursing curriculum, the files for the simulator happen to be available on Thingiverse, so they went ahead and 3D printed one.

“These models cost more than a thousand dollars, but we wanted something that would save money, be cost effective, and use the university’s resources,” said Goddard. “We asked ourselves, how cheaply can we do this?”

SMAP Center student interns James Tovar, Marquis Myler, Nicholas “Gage” Swinford, Martavia Lucious, Matthew Daigle, and Andrew Farris

Pretty cheaply, as it turns out. Dr. Lioce worked with several 3D printing specialists who intern at the SMAP Center: engineering majors James Tovar, Marquis Myler, Nicholas “Gage” Swinford, Martavia Lucious, and Andrew Farris, and computer science major Matthew Daigle, to 3D print the cricothyrotomy simulator and tweak it to get the right texture and strength. After three prototypes, they were satisfied, and the total cost had only been $15.

“Now we are using four of them in our class, with a savings of $6,000,” said Dr. Lioce.

Next will be a simulator for an onychectomy, a cringe-inducing procedure in which the thumbnail is removed – definitely something nurses will want to be well-trained for before they perform it on a patient. The 3D printed simulator will save $33 for each student involved in the nursing program. They also plan to create an injection pad.

“With that we’re going one step further – we’re looking at injection molding,” said Goddard. “We’re trying to cross-pollinate so everyone knows how to 3-D print, injection mold, solder, use the software, and do whatever else is needed.”

Dr. Lioce is also using 3D printed vein finders, which are portable devices that use LED lights to help nurses locate difficult-to-find veins. These typically cost hundreds of dollars, but the student team was able to 3D print them for $6 each. They may also 3D print surgical models from MRI scans. Next, Dr. Lioce hopes that the collaboration between the College of Nursing and the SMAP Center can be formalized and expanded – not only because of the cost savings they’ve achieved together, but because it exposes students in both areas to subject matter and valuable skills they might not learn in their own programs.

“We’ve been able to substantiate a significant cost savings,” said Dr. Lioce. “Diversity of thought and science stimulates needed growth and solutions. It’s precisely because we think differently that we are innovative together.”

Discuss this story and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below.

[Source/Images: University of Alabama in Huntsville]

 

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