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Clinical instructor in nursing Violet Horst, middle, works with UVa nursing students using a sophisticated robotic pregnant simulator named Victoria to help train them at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. Photo/The Daily Progress/Andrew Shurtleff

When Victoria cried out in anguish during the delivery of her baby on Wednesday, the student nurses surrounding her assured her that it would all be over soon.

Well, until her next delivery, scheduled to begin about 30 minutes later. Victoria was in for a long day.

Thankfully, that’s Victoria’s job. The University of Virginia’s School of Nursing purchased the robotic pregnancy simulator in February and just started using her during the school’s summer courses. Aesthetically, Victoria certainly lies in the trough of the uncanny valley, but the blinking, breathing, speaking mannequin is giving UVa’s nursing school students first-hand experience in delivering newborns.

During a simulation at UVa’s Clinical Simulation Learning Center on Wednesday, three clinical nurse leadership students lead Victoria through a Gravida-5, which denotes a delivery after the woman has already birthed five children.

A nearby control room allows a technician to control Victoria’s speech, heart rate and more, giving the students a realistic look at life in the delivery room. The three students each took on a role — primary nurse, baby nurse and charge nurse — and once everyone was in place, the action started with sighs of pain from Victoria.

Instantly, the nurses took action, soothing Victoria with their words while monitoring her vital signs on nearby monitors.

The nurses called in a primary physician to handle some of the grittier bits of the delivery, including lifelike contractions, blood, fluids and all, followed by a small, crying mannequin baby being pushed from Victoria’s birthing canal.

They even call for a father-to-be stand-in to rush in and stand at Victoria’s side.

While the primary physician, played in this scenario by clinical instructor Violet Horst, proceeded to extract the eerily-realistic placenta, the nurses ensured that Victoria had skin-to-skin contact with her newborn, then weighed and checked the faux-infant for its activity, appearance, respiration and more.

While these three didn’t seem to make any, the simulator allows students to make and learn from their mistakes. For Maithili Mody, who served as the baby nurse in the simulation, the whole ordeal creates a “hands-on” experience that puts the coursework into practice.

“I learn better hands-on,” Mody said. “It’s one thing to read it in a book and see how others do it, but I learn better doing the process myself.”

One of the biggest takeaways that may not be as easily taught in a book is the importance of having a “live body” in the stirrups, even if Victoria is not quite alive.

“It’s important for us to realize that we really need to take into consideration what the patient is saying,” Mody said. “Just listening to her feedback is a big help.”

Jacob Heltzel, who played the primary nurse, said the simulation can also help with understanding the more intimate parts that nurses play in the delivery room, like dealing with families and helping a patient stay stress-free.

“Pregnancy is a very valuable moment to families,” Heltzel said. “It’s a very precious and guarded time for them, so for us to come into that environment already knowing what’s going on and how to anticipate their needs is beneficial for not only the baby, but for the family.”

The high-fidelity simulator, created by Gaumard Scientific in Florida, cost somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000 — a “large investment,” according to Ryne Ackard, the director of simulation at the learning center. But it’s an investment that’s continuing to be made by universities around the country.

“It’s really important for the students to experience something that is very realistic to what they’ll see in the clinical environment,” Ackard said. “I think what you’re seeing now is nursing schools are seeing the value of simulation and they’re investing in it, and I think you’ll see that going forward.”

If the training can provide prospective nurses with the experience they need for the actual delivery room, then prospective mothers can rest a little easier.

“We spend so much time in the classroom, reading books and studying lectures,” said Hailey Feger, who played the charge nurse. “To actually be able to apply that sets in stone for me, so when I get to clinicals, I can feel more confident about my role there.”

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Dean Seal is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, dseal@dailyprogress.com or @JDeanSeal on Twitter.

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