Medical professionals step into virtual world for training

There's an operating room, a trauma center, and state of the art medical technology, but there are no patients -- at least, not real ones. The Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation is located in Tampa, Florida. The $30 million complex allows doctors, nurses and medical students to train with simulation technology.

"What we're trying to do in the medical world is get our simulators as close to real life as possible so that the participants ideally forget that they're on a simulator," said Karl Illig, M.D. from the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation.

The patients are robotic replicas of the human body which can be programmed to respond to various medical procedures. Deborah Sutherland, the center's CEO, says both students and veteran medical professionals learn better in real world environments.

"We have a realistic environment where they actually get to simulate the either individual or team training as it would be performed in a clinical area. Everything is very realistic," said Sutherland.

To create the most true-to-life environment as possible, different music and lighting can be piped into a trauma operating room, even sounds of helicopters and gunfire to simulate a war zone. Or soothing blue or green lights can simulate a calming operating environment for vascular surgeries. There are even entire pediatric wards with crying robotic babies and people acting as worried mothers.

"He also can move and breathe and have a heart rate. So all those things start getting to people's emotional side and bring out that feeling that this is a real situation," said Laura Haubner from the University of Florida.

While the Florida center is unique in size, smaller versions of the virtual training center are also being used at several major medical schools around the country. Here in the Bay Area, Stanford, UCSF, and California Pacific Medical Center all use virtual technology in training ranging from surgery to protocols for patient care.

Written and Produced by Tim Didion

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