RAS AL KHAIMAH // A medical student wearing a white coat and with a stethoscope hanging from his neck gingerly presses the abdomen of a woman in the bed in front of him. At first the patient does not react. But as his fingers press harder, she lets out a scream of pain.
The young man pulls back his fingers quickly, a slightly shocked look on his face, and mouths the words: "I'm sorry." It is a scene often repeated in hospitals across the globe, but this time, at a university in Ras al Khaimah, things are a little different. The patient is not actually human. She is a dummy, a Dh65,000 (US$17,700) piece of plastic and wires used by trainee doctors and nurses to practise procedures, from checking a pulse to inserting a catheter.
RAK Medical and Health Sciences University believes only a handful of medical schools in the Middle East use the mannequins. "I've found them very helpful, because with a real patient we would have just been lost and the patient would react badly if they felt you didn't know what you were doing," said Rashi Sen, 21, a fourth-year medical student. "Thanks to the dummies, we're pretty confident when we come across real patients."
The university bought the first of its US-made mannequins in 2007 and several more last year. Some have been given names. One female is called Annie, and another is named Kelly. A label bearing the name Mr C Brad sits above the bed of a male model. Students can attach a colostomy bag, measure the pulse in various parts of the body and listen to sounds such as those of a patient with breathing problems.
Most of the "patients" resemble a real person, with hair, eyes, mouths several appear to be caught in a permanent grimace and clothes. One is a child and several are babies. Students also get to practise on separate body parts or sections, such as the waist area of a woman that gives birth to a baby with the umbilical cord and placenta attached. In one corner of a laboratory sits an arm with its own blood supply that students use to collect blood samples and give injections.
The mannequins are attached to a computer that can be programmed for different procedures. Dr Vijaya Kumardhas, the dean of the college of nursing, said such dummies were common in western medical schools but rare in the Middle East. "The students fear going and doing this directly on a real patient, so now they get the skills before they do it on a real patient," she said. "This takes care of errors."
"Otherwise, they wouldn't directly experience the feel of the patients. When you touch the abdomen, he says, 'Aargh!', and when you touch the respiratory [tract] he coughs. If you put in a tracheotomy tube, you can see if you didn't put it in right." Despite state-of-the-art equipment and generous scholarships, the university has found it difficult to attract nursing students. The medical course is oversubscribed and can fill its 50 places each year, but in nursing there are as few as 15 students in a year. Pharmacy and dentistry courses have also failed to fill their quotas.
However, the university hopes numbers will increase next year and, if this happens, it will order more mannequins. "It's not just practising the procedures, it's the psychological aspect, seeing how it reacts," Dr Kumardhas said. "It makes you feel for the patient, have empathy with them." email@example.com