Oct. 22, 2018

Accredited simulation lab offers dynamic training tool

ATSSL demonstrating CSM’s commitment to innovation in education

A 43-year-old woman is rushed to emergency complaining of chest pain. She’s been in pain for the past three hours. It started while doing dishes. The pain is sharp, on the left side of her chest, and is still there while she’s resting. It gets worse when she takes deep breaths. When asked about leg pain, she mentions a cramp in her left calf.

As her doctor, what happens next is up to you. So, now what?

Scenarios like this play out in hospitals on a daily basis. What’s unique this time is the patient isn’t human. The patient is a specially-designed mannequin at the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Advanced Technical Skills Simulation Laboratory (ATSSL).

A state-of-the-art lab, ATSSL provides an innovative and safe environment for health-care professionals and students to learn and master skills. It was built to enhance patient safety by allowing training in a simulated environment before providing care in hospital. It also allows experienced medical professionals the opportunity to expand their skills using the latest technology. 

Dr. Dana Saleh, MD’18, is a resident in Calgary who graduated from CSM’s Doctor of Medicine program in 2018. As a student, Salah says she used the ATSSL labs many times to learn using realistic patient scenarios.

“It provides valuable support in the transition from student to resident. I used it to practice everything from inserting intravenous lines to casting to many different patient scenarios. I used it to practice before exams and it helped me develop skills and perform according to the highest standard.”

Saleh was among a group of students who also helped create an extracurricular club that used the labs. Supported by ATSSL staff throughout the process, the club is led by more experienced third-year students facilitating their own courses, training the less experienced students. Saleh says it helped her to further develop teaching, leadership and communication skills. “It allowed us to work on non-technical competencies like preparing course materials, mentoring, conflict management and debriefing. Ultimately, it allows us to better prepare for the experience of treating patients,” says Saleh.

The ATSSL opened its doors to simulated medical education in 2014. The 20,000 square foot training centre offers a wide range of simulations including cadaver tissue and operating theatre simulation.

ATSSL Manager George Mulvey leads a small team that includes a medical director, operations manager, coordinator, simulation consultants and technicians. 

“Our team is committed to offering the highest quality service to learners from within the university and beyond. Our goal is simple: improve patient safety and quality of care,” Mulvey says. “We want to ensure ATSSL is always at the forefront of innovation and excellence.”

The facility includes a skills simulation lab to practice procedures such as laparoscopy, arthroscopy, endoscopy and microsurgery. There are 20 simulated operating rooms fully-equipped with scrub sinks, surgical beds and tables, overhead lighting and LED monitors. 

Four of the stations are specially outfitted with cameras that allow real-time imaging to be displayed throughout the lab and classrooms. A separate clinical skills lab includes a wide selection of specific trainers such as airway simulators, central line simulators and intravenous arms. 

The skills lab has three simulation suites and eight classroom pods with a capacity to accommodate 160 learners at a time. Two classrooms allow for lectures, debriefings, symposiums, and conferences in separate rooms with wireless internet, videoconferencing, an LCD projector and remote viewing of surgical areas.

Innovations such as the student-led extracurricular courses that Saleh was involved with were instrumental in ATSSL becoming accredited in 2018 by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 

It’s the most prestigious designation a simulation facility can achieve.

Royal College accredited programs are recognized internationally thanks to a rigorous peer review process. ATSSL was one of two newly accredited simulations programs recognized during a ceremony in September in Ottawa. 

“Achieving accreditation is a tribute to the hard work of the ATSSL team and the collaboration between Alberta Health Services and CSM that made it possible,” Mulvey says. “Simulation is a developing area of medical education with tremendous room for growth and I am looking forward to ATSSL being at the forefront of that growth for years to come.”

Simulation Lab

ATSSL – By the numbers  (2017-18)

  • 19,532 users
  • 571 educational sessions


Surgical Simulation Lab 

  • 10,348 users
  • 331 sessions

Clinical Skills Simulation Lab 

  • 9184 users
  • 240 sessions