Not a drill

Hyper-realistic training immerses RVUCOM students in surgery scenarios

Alongside physicians and real-life first responders, students perform simulated surgeries on actors wearing special effects-inspired cut suits.

It’s a sunny afternoon in San Diego and a group of second-year students from the military medicine track at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine (RVUCOM) in Parker, Colorado, are attending a barbeque. Suddenly, in a scene worthy of Hollywood, the grill explodes.

Actors wearing cut suits, which are surgical simulators that can gush blood and mimic all manner of orthopedic injuries, scream as students rush to aid them. A cast of real-life California firefighters, police, paramedics, EMTs, border patrol agents and journalists, playing themselves, are also responding to the disaster. Once the “patients” arrive at an on-set hospital, students perform simulated surgeries on them under the direction of physicians and emergency medicine residents.

Miniature disasters

It’s all part of RVUCOM’s hyper-realistic intensive surgical skills course for students in the school’s military medicine track. “During the immersion, students live in a village on a movie set where we reproduce in miniature all kinds of disastrous events, including bomb explosions, collapsing buildings, and active-shooter incidents,” explains retired Army colonel Anthony J. LaPorta, MD, who directs the military medicine track. Dr. LaPorta says the intense sights and sounds of the four-and-a-half-day training, which takes place at a simulation lab run by a San Diego film studio, are designed to prepare students for situations they could encounter in the armed forces.

Last May, 21 students from RVUCOM’s military medicine track completed the immersion training, joined by four students from the Kansas City (Missouri) University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine. In future trainings, Dr. LaPorta hopes to involve more students from KCUMB’s military medicine program and potentially expand the training to include students from other osteopathic medical schools.

Controlling the chaos

U.S. Army Capt. Charles Hutchinson, DO, graduated from RVUCOM’s military medicine track in 2015 and is now a family medicine resident at Fort Benning, an Army base in Columbus, Georgia. He completed the immersion training as a second-year osteopathic medical student and helped organize the event during his third and fourth years.

“Being immersed in the triage scenario really put into perspective how chaotic things can get, but you also see how being trained appropriately can help you control the chaos,” he says. Interacting one-on-one with physicians was especially valuable, Dr. Hutchinson notes, as was the chance to experience what it would be like to practice in specialties such as emergency medicine or surgery.

Surgical simulation training

RVUCOM’s immersion training isn’t limited to students entering military medicine, however. All third-year students spend the first week of their clinical rotations completing an immersion training at RVUCOM’s surgical simulation center.

“It’s a much calmer immersion that incorporates different surgical illnesses as they might play out in a city or a small town,” Dr. LaPorta says. For example, students might accompany a cut suit-clad “patient” with appendicitis on his ambulance ride to the hospital before performing simulated surgery. The cut suits provide a realistic approximation of what surgery is like, reproducing the look, feel and even smell of various operations.

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