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Simulation Lab Director Benny Holland and one of his 'patients.'The first thing you notice when walking into the Simulation Center at the Texas A&M Health Science Center is that it looks and smells like a real hospital: the lights are overly bright and the floors freshly cleaned. Each room is impeccable. Even the patients are deceiving: they look like normal patients sleeping soundly in their hospital beds instead of high-tech training manikins.

Simulation Lab Director Benny Holland and one of his ‘patients.’The first thing you notice when walking into the Simulation Center at the Texas A&M Health Science Center is that it looks and smells like a real hospital: the lights are overly bright and the floors freshly cleaned. Each room is impeccable. Even the patients are deceiving: they look like normal patients sleeping soundly in their hospital beds instead of high-tech training manikins.

The Simulation Center is designed to create as lifelike an experience as possible for everyone who trains there, and the manikins are just the beginning. Local residents are recruited as actors so students can practice talking to living “patients.” It all reflects the holistic teaching philosophy of Benny Holland, director of the Simulation Center that medical professionals should be learning together since they will be practicing together in their professional life.

Advances in technology and the discovery of new medications and techniques change the face of health care almost daily. The Simulation Center is the embodiment of these new technologies and teaching methods, and Benny Holland is its champion. Directing the Simulation Center is not his job ­– it is his passion.

Holland’s goal has been to promote the “gold standard” of medical teaching through evidence-based methods. This is in opposition to the traditional paradigm of “see one, do one, teach one” that has dominated medical teaching for many decades..

By using the Simulation Center, students are permitted to make mistakes, mistakes they could not make in a clinical setting. “Mistakes are the greatest teacher,” says Holland. “A student never forgets when their manikin dies, and they don’t ever want it to happen again.” They get to hone their critical thinking skills and reactions to emergency situations without risking a real patient’s life.

Holland says he found his calling six years ago when he became the director of the Simulation Center; others describe Holland as the driving force behind the center’s success. It has not been an easy journey.

“I grew up dirt-floor poor,” says Holland. “I realized early that I would have to work hard to improve my station in life.”

It wasn’t always easy, he says, but he was determined to take every opportunity life gave him. From working at an auto parts store to dangerous jobs in iron working, Holland learned early on that every job could teach him something. It was during his time as an iron worker that Holland realized what he really wanted in life: to become a nurse and use his skills to help people. Shortly after he completed the nursing program at Stephen F. Austin State University, Holland started work as a nurse at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but Holland got to see people from all walks of life, and he learned quickly how to do his job under any condition.

After several years, Holland decided to go back to school and attended the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, graduating with a Master in Public Health in 2003. Less than a year later, Holland heard of an opportunity at the Texas A&M Health Science Center to create a simulation center that would provide students with more hands-on learning experiences.

Involved in every step in the process – from planning to construction to finding the right technology for the center – Holland says he must have been a thorn in the side of the construction company because he reviewed every aspect of the Simulation Center from the ground up. “The hardest part wasn’t finding the right equipment and technology,” says Holland, noting there is a second Simulation Center in Round Rock for medical students there. “It was showing health care professionals and educators how valuable the Simulation Center would be.”

Now that the center is up and running, that has changed. In an era when technology often allows patients to be discharged quickly, the simulations are sometimes the only way students can see certain medical cases before they will be responsible for treating real patients. The Simulation Center, under the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Roderick McCallum, is also open to the community. Tours are available for young adults to learn what it means to enter a health care profession and even learn about their own health. Holland says more than one parent has told him that the birthing manikin should be shown to every teenager as a form of birth control.  Holland is confident that students who are able to practice real-world scenarios will enter the health care professions more confident and better able to handle any situation. The Simulation Center can reproduce any medical event, any number of times, so that every student is able to hear irregular heart beats, participate in the birth of a child, practice drawing blood and almost any other medical situation that could arise.

While Holland describes his professional journey as long and often difficult, success, he says, is about hard work. Because of Holland’s hard work, students enrolled in one of the Texas A&M Health Science Center health care programs are able to refine their healing skills in a setting where the possible consequence of a mistake isn’t a person’s life but rather the “death” of a high-tech manikin. – by Tessa K. Moore

For more information on the six colleges that comprise the Texas A&M Health Science Center, visit http://tamhsc.edu