Chatham News

Highmark Foundation grant enables health science programs to partner with West Penn Allegheny patient simulation center

By: Paul Kovach, Chief Communications Officer
February 15, 2011

PITTSBURGH (February 15, 2011) … As Chatham University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS)programs continue to grow, so too does the need for access to advanced patient simulator technology, which can greatly enhance the pre-clinical instruction of health science students. Through the generosity of a $106,850 grant from the Highmark Foundation, Chatham will partner for two years with the Simulation Teaching and Academic Research Center (STAR Center) at West Penn Allegheny Health System to provide DPT and MPAS students with access to a state-of-the-art center that replicates actual clinical environments such as acute care, obstetric and operating room settings.

“The Highmark Foundation is proud to support Chatham University and its efforts to expand patient simulator technology, said Highmark Foundation President Yvonne Cook. “With the grant, more students will enhance their learning experience and be better prepared for entering the health care work force.”

“Since we first acquired our own patient simulators in 2005, our health science enrollment has increased dramatically and the technology has advanced to provide an even more realistic training environment,” explained Luis A. Ramos, MS, PA-C, director of Chatham’s Physician Assistant Studies program. “At the STAR Center our students will be able to engage in a full range of medical simulations that will better prepare them for real-life situations.”

Patricia Downey, PT, PhD, DPT, OCS, director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, adds, “Through the course of this two-year program we will also collect data during and after the simulation-training period to compare with student outcomes from previous years, enabling us to further enhance our curriculum and future student success. Simulation training has been found to positively impact hospitals and medical schools. The use of simulation training has been shown to shorten the length of caregivers’ learning curves, thus reducing institution’s costs on errors and mistakes.”

“We have always envisioned the state-of-the art STAR Center as a resource for the wider community as well as a training site for West Penn Allegheny’s medical students, nursing students and others,” said Donald J. Wilfong, MD, Vice Chief, Department of Medicine, West Penn Hospital, and Medical Director of the STAR Center. “We are excited to partner with Chatham in this endeavor and salute the university on its long history of excellence in higher education and commitment to educating the next generation of health professionals.”

About the STAR Center
The Simulation, Teaching and Academic Research (STAR) Center was established in 2007 through an initial $500,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation. Housed on The Western Pennsylvania Hospital campus in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, the STAR Center is a simulation-training hub for a variety of medical professionals, including nursing students, allied healthcare students, and resident-physicians, practicing clinicians, researchers and emergency medical technicians.

West Penn Hospital’s STAR Center is unique because it replicates an actual clinical unit of a hospital as well as a fully equipped ambulance, enabling students to practice and perfect procedural skills, electronic charting and administration of medications. Computerized robotic mannequins mimic the physiology of human patients (blood pressure, heart rate, breath sounds, etc.) and can be programmed to display symptoms of a wide range of health conditions; supplies are set up just like hospital units, including IV administration kits, dressing carts and blood draw kits. Students can also learn emergency care for mothers and infants in the Family Birthing/Neonatal Center.

Two patient rooms replicate an intensive care unit with high-fidelity Laerdal SimMan® patient simulators. A control room between the two ICU beds allows students to be videotaped while responding to clinical scenarios set up by their instructors who can then assess and review student performance and competence with the individual and/or group. The latest SimMan® 3G is so advanced that it can cry, bleed, convulse and suffer cardiac arrest. This interactive manikin provides users with immediate feedback on the interventions as well. Four nursing bays have lower fidelity mannequins, Laerdal Nursing Anne Simulators and a Laerdal Mega Code Kid pediatric simulator. NOELLE™ Birthing and Maternal Simulator by Armstrong Medical and Sim Neonate are housed in the Family Birthing Center. The STAR Center has various add-on modules for simulation of trauma and wound care and owns and operates 18 task trainers for practicing procedures, such as lumbar punctures, intravenous therapy, central line insertions and joint injections.

The STAR Center replicates a hospital’s actual medication process with a crash cart, placebos and a Pyxis® supply system with access to controlled and emergency medications allowing students to learn and practice the medication system. STAR also has a simulated hospital documentation system, CHAS. The CHAS and Pyxis simulated systems help to reduce patient and procedural errors because students have an opportunity to practice procedures prior to using them in the clinical setting, consequently allowing the student to spend more quality time with their patients.

Virtual tours of the STAR Center are available at

About Chatham University
Chatham University prepares students from around the world to help develop solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Consistently ranked among the top master’s level institutions in the Northeast by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, Chatham University is also ranked in the top five percent of graduate-intensive institutions nationally and experienced the fastest-growing enrollment in the Pittsburgh region over the past decade. Founded in 1869, Chatham University includes the Shadyside Campus, with the historic 39-acre Woodland Road arboretum and Chatham Eastside facility; and the 388-acre Eden Hall Campus north of Pittsburgh. For more information call 800-837-1290 or visit