Nursing students at new CU South Denver learn from a bunch of dummies


AURORA | There is no confusing these mannequins with real people. Their skin is the color of hotel walls, their teeth are as natural as Chiclets and today this man is called “Evelyn.” His hair likely came from an aerosol can.

For human patient simulators, the work is very often unglamorous — sometimes artificially foul smelling. The humans working on and around Evelyn like first-year nursing student Christina Matheus, simulation lab Director Fara Bowler and simulation lab Technician Travis Graves, the patients aren’t real, and that’s the point.

“I would rather learn from mistakes here than out there,” Matheus said.

The mannequins are an important part of her education, Matheus said, and she doesn’t view them much differently than real patients she encounters while she trains to become a nurse. Despite Evelyn having a massive open wound near his hip.

Similar mannequins are already being unpacked at the University of Colorado South Denver, which will open Aug. 18. The satellite facility, located at The Wildlife Experience in Parker, will serve hundreds of students in fields from engineering to business. The University of Colorado College of Nursing will also offer classes to 36 students initially enrolled in the program there.

According to Bowler, the satellite classes offered additional nursing program seats that wouldn’t have otherwise been available. The 36 students at CU South Denver will be in addition to the 150 nursing students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, an increase of more than 25 percent.

Bowler said the mannequins and equipment purchased for the college cost more than $500,000 and are proof that CU would like to duplicate the same experience from Anschutz in Parker. More than 100 different scenarios can be programmed into the mannequins.

“It’s very specific and controlled in these settings. Whatever I want to expose them to, I can.” Bowler said. “Everything you see up here will also be at the south campus, so those students get the same experiences.”

For Matheus, who said she was interested in becoming a nurse because she “loved helping people” — not necessarily mannequins — the experience is more than just CPR on a plastic body. Sometimes the mannequin isn’t even a main character in the drama happening around the patient.

“We don’t know that going into the scenario. We have a scenario on paper for what we can expect, but a family member can walk in there at any moment and completely turn the whole thing around,” Matheus said.

“We don’t just focus on the diagnosis or what’s going on with the patient. Every scenario has a psycho-social component — a family member. There’s also a communication method, so they’re either giving a report to another nurse or calling a doctor. There’s the complexity of systems, we never go in and do ‘a thing’ on a patient. There’s a complex system going on around us. We practice in a complex medical environment now,” Bowler said.