From the archives: Simulation in the sixties

by Maija Anderson, OHSU Historical Collections & Archives

March 23, 2015

Looking at OHSU’s stunning new technologies and facilities for medical simulation, one could easily assume that using a simulated environment for clinical training is a twenty-first century concept. But while simulation technology is progressing at a breathtaking rate, it also has a long and fascinating history, going back to the earliest documented records of medical education.

Mannequin team

The concept of simulation was first described in the Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit surgical text dating to the 6th century BC. It advised teachers of medicine to instruct students using models, dolls and natural objects to simulate patients. Simulation evolved over the following centuries and across continents especially in the areas of surgery and obstetrics. As early as the 1700s, obstetricians, surgeons and midwives learned their craft on three-dimensional models or “phantoms.” Abraham Flexner urged the use of simulation and standardized patients in his 1910 report on medical education, recognizing the advantages to both pedagogy and safety.

Understanding the rich history of simulation gives context to the strange but amusing photograph, taken at University of Oregon Medical School (the precursor to today's OHSU School of Medicine) around the 1960s. It shows a staged demonstration of an operating environment, complete with four costumed and posed mannequins. We can see one of the mannequins wears a sign indicating its role as “Surgical Scrub Technician.” Presumably, the other mannequins have similar signs on their backs. Behind the mannequin, a man in a white coat gestures toward the scene. The mix of observers suggests that this is a presentation for visitors, rather than an instructional setting.

Here in the archives, we receive many inquiries about the history of simulation technology and instruction at OHSU. Do you remember learning or teaching in simulation environments of the 20th century? Perhaps you even remember this unusual simulated operating room? We’d love to hear more about your experiences. Email us any time. 

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