Students are expected to occupy the University of Texas Medical Branch’s new Health Education Center by June. The campus’s first significant new education space in 40 years, the Health Education Center represents a $90.4 million investment in the medical branch’s approach to teaching students using state-of-the-art technologies and an interprofessional approach.

That means students from the nursing school; medical school; physical therapy, occupational therapy and respiratory therapy schools; students studying to be dietitians; and clinical science and research graduate students all will merge in the new space designed to teach a team approach to health care.

“We’ll have centralized scheduling with an aim of creating highly functional teams,” said Janet Southerland, vice president of interprofessional education, institutional effectiveness and the Health Education Center.

“The end goal is to achieve better outcomes by teaching good skills and creating strong teams,” Southerland said.

The new center comprises 162,000 square feet on five levels.

At the top level, the fifth floor, elevators will deliver simulated patient mannequins brought up from a first-floor ambulance bay and will simulate operating room procedures and intensive care unit functions.

Lifelike mannequins will be utilized to simulate a wide variety of care scenarios and each of the training areas will be on view from monitoring rooms where faculty can observe and make notes of performance.

“Students can fail in a safe environment,” said Dean of Nursing Deborah Jones. “There’s a nursing station outside the ICU unit and control rooms behind it, all with cameras. Student interactions can be recorded for debriefing later by the medical staff.”

Also on the fifth floor, teams will be simulating and developing scenarios around mass disasters.

Simulation centers are in place at Texas Tech University and University of Houston health education centers and simulator mannequins are in use around the medical branch’s hospitals where they’re used for training. But this is the medical branch’s first time bringing simulators together for a wide variety of purposes and training scenarios, Jones said.

On the fourth floor, designed to simulate an actual medical-surgical ward with patient rooms and a central nursing station, students will interact with real people pretending to be patients who are taught scenarios of illness, complications and basic care needs.

Medical school students will spend more time on the standardized care floor before doing clinical rotations at medical branch hospitals, and nursing students will divide time between the fifth-floor simulation suites and standardized patient suites before seeing actual patients.

The building is designed in such a way that students and patients have separate entrances to the fourth floor, so they won’t bump into each other before their training scenarios begin. The fourth floor also is outfitted with exam rooms and procedure rooms.

Level three will house medical and surgical patient rooms utilizing mannequins for everything from pediatrics to women giving birth. Classrooms, or learning studios, that accommodate 160 students are at one end of the floor and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant apartment is set up on the third floor, designed to simulate the needs of patients leaving rehab and learning how to live with disabilities while therapy students practice their skills at helping patients adapt.

A massive public art piece will sweep up behind the open stairwell connecting the first three floors.

The second floor will house an education administration suite; more learning studios, all equipped with video and audio equipment and wifi connections; skills labs where students will learn to do basic physical examinations; a pharmacy; a triage area with simulators to teach acute care skills; and areas for group activities.

The first floor, like all the areas above, is lighted through floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Galveston, and features inviting eating and study areas for students, an open gallery in the Sealy and Smith Foundation Concourse and a large meeting room with a catering kitchen that will be available for events.

“We polled students to see what they wanted for the concession area and they voted for a burger-type joint with a salad bar,” said Jake Wolf, program director for capital projects at the medical branch, who has supervised this project for the past two years.

Nursing students arriving in June will be the first students to utilize the new building. 

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257;

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