Clinical simulation training goes to the dogs

clinical simulation

Boston Children’s Hospital’s fast-growing Simulator Program, SIMPeds, creates medical scenarios for clinical teams to practice challenging procedures and situations in a risk-free environment. Now serving 27 departments and divisions at the hospital, SIMPeds’ customized simulations prepare clinicians for everything from a Code Blue to complex surgery to breaking difficult news to parents.

At the Simulation Center this week, there was one special team member being trained: Rafa, a Miniature Australian Shepherd auditioning to be part of Pawprints, Boston Children’s dog visitation program. Not all dogs are behaviorally up to the job when confronted with a hospital environment. So the SIM team created a mock intensive-care-unit patient room, fully equipped and complete with an overly enthusiastic child (overwhelming for some dogs), played by SIM engineer Katie Fitzpatrick. As Rafa interacted with the “patient,” the SIM staff set off alarms, had “doctors” and “nurses” come in and out and staged other hospital things that might distract or make a dog skittish.

clinical simulation dog visitation

During the hour-long session, Rafa acquitted herself well, proving to have a calm, gentle temperament. She remained professional, obeying commands and successfully refraining from eating a cookie on the floor. She will likely be accepted onto the Pawprints team.

“Historically, we initially evaluated the Pawprints dog candidates in a home setting,” says SIMPeds child life specialist Brianna O’Connell, who attended the simulation together with behavioral evaluator Amy Koel, PhD. “This was less than ideal, as dogs are extremely contextual animals.”

In addition to dogs and clinicians, SIMPeds also educates families via a range of customized simulations — from practice sessions for parents of children going home with complex medical equipment to simulations helping children with autism prepare for medical procedures.

 Learn more about SIMPeds.