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Heart Lung Bypass

Perfusion simulations train students
in real-life scenarios

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations
When he hears stifled laughter in the background, John Hollifield knows trouble is coming.

The College of Health Professions (CHP) student has learned the sound probably is coming from behind the control board, where Joseph J. Sistino, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Perfusion, sits during simulations.

Students run through a perfusion simulation in the laboratory in the College of Health Professions.

“When you’re in the simulation, you’re sweating,” he said of his experiences in the college’s Cardiovascular Perfusion Simulation Lab. “There’s going to be a power failure requiring a hand crank or an oxygenator failure or air in the venous line.”

Sistino agreed. “We can make everything go really wrong from back here.”
That’s the point. The simulation lab, which opened in July 2009, lets students learn how to handle a wide array of emergency conditions under pressure so that it becomes second nature before they might face it in real life. Hollifield said he has enjoyed it because they get more experience in a shorter amount of time, and can practice the more challenging skills they need to learn.

Joseph J. Sistino mans the control panel.

Sistino said it’s been a great asset for the college.

“Students are not just better prepared, they’re more confident in themselves. They become technically more proficient, and it also gives them the confidence that when they get into a serious situation, they are going to be able to handle it. An operating room is a very stressful environment. It’s like an airplane that flies perfectly 99 percent of the time, but when something goes wrong, it can be very serious.”

The goal is to do educational research on the simulator, such as having students work in the middle of the night to measure the effects of fatigue. They also plan to add more cameras to facilitate evaluations, which will make it the best simulation lab in the nation, he said. They spend as much time “debriefing” after sessions to evaluate themselves as they do practicing in the lab.

Sistino said miscommunication contributes to 70 percent of adverse events that happen in the operating room versus 40 percent caused because of a mechanical problem. The simulation lab allows the students to see how easily those miscommunications can happen and how to handle that or a mechanical issue.

There are only 18 perfusion schools in the country, with MUSC being the second college-based program to be started. MUSC is one of only three perfusion schools in the nation to have such a simulator, and CHP just hosted the 11th Annual Update on Perfusion Devices Workshop, the only conference of its kind nationally.

The simulation lab is used during the conference to demonstrate devices. This year’s conference was attended by 100 perfusionists, 27 students and 33 vendors. There were 18 formal presentations and demonstrations.

“It’s a way to let professionals learn about new equipment and what the future of the field is as far as new technology. The students attend, and they get to meet perfusionists from all over the country. It’s a good showcase for our students too because they make contacts all over the country. It’s a win-win situation.”

Watch the video:

Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.