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Manikins 101: Learn the basics

Students learn crucial skills on manikins that they wouldn’t want to try for the first time on a real live human being, like blood draws or placing a catheter. But why do manikins look like…that?

An elderly manikin lies with her mouth open in an eerie stare.

No, manikins in the Simulation Center aren’t reacting to a Halloween jump scare; while admittedly a bit uncanny, this facial expression actually serves an important purpose.

A Susie manikin lies with her mouth open.

Jaw-dropping shock

Students must learn how to react to a patient emergency, such as a sudden loss of oxygen or circulation when a patient “crashes”. The first step is to check the patient’s airways and get them oxygen, hence the manikin’s permanently open-mouthed shocked look.

But why not give manikins a hinging jaw that can open and close as needed? The answer is durability. Adding a movable jaw would increase the chance that the jaw would break, and therefore decrease the effectiveness of the manikin.

So why do some manikins look plastic and some look like real people? This has to do with the manikins’ different fidelities – how accurately they portray fact or detail.

Low-fidelity manikins

A Hal manikin eats breakfast while lying in a hospital bed.

Although low-fidelity manikins are not technically very fancy, they’re incredibly useful. Students learn repetitive tasks on low-fidelity manikins – they’re often referred to as “task trainers.”

Students can practice dressing wounds, inserting nasogastric tubes and giving injections. And unlike a standardized patient, low-fidelity manikins won’t bruise or complain if you stick them one too many times.

High-fidelity manikins

Hal manikin sits a storage room wearing a gown and hat.
One of the “Hal” manikins dressed up in a storage room.

High-fidelity manikins like Hal have advanced breathing and circulation technology. Their eyes blink, their chests rise and fall and they have a detectable pulse. Their eyes can turn yellow, and their mouths can turn blue as an indication of a lack of oxygen.

These manikins are also important for students learning CPR, since they include technology to measure the depth of their compressions to see if – in real life – it would be a proper and effective compression. The data appears on a chart that shows if students were pushing too hard or not hard enough.

A pile of manikin arms in storage.

They also have interchangeable parts. For example, if a simulation scenario involves a patient with a broken tibia, staff can switch out Hal’s healthy leg for one with a bone protruding.

What is high visual fidelity?

While low- and high-fidelity usually describe the technical capabilities of a manikin, the Simulation Center also has what’s known as high visual fidelity manikins.

An elderly high visual fidelity manikin lies on a gurney.

These are technically less complex than manikins like Hal, but they’re visually impressive. Manikins like this one are made from a silicone mold; then they’re hand painted and airbrushed for hyper-realistic effect.

Close up of a manikin's skin and beard.

Because they are extremely realistic looking, students tend to immerse themselves in the simulated scenario more fully; it helps them feel like they’re treating a person, not a robot.

A headshot of a bariatric manikin.

The Simulation Center also has a few hybrid manikins – these are high-fidelity manikins like Hal with a silicone mask creating a more realistic face.

The result? Hyper realistic manikins that can physically do more than the strictly silicone versions.

So despite their sometimes-unnatural appearances, manikins help students develop their skills by being able to practice over and over and over, so tasks become second nature.

A Susie manikin sits in a storage area with other manikins lying in the background.