Cool Job: Making Model Organs for Med Schools Using materials like badminton shuttle cocks, lima beans and cardboard, Dr. Carla Pugh of Northwestern University's medical school makes practice models of scrotums, breasts, colons and vaginas.
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Cool Job: Making Model Organs for Med Schools

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Cool Job: Making Model Organs for Med Schools

Cool Job: Making Model Organs for Med Schools

Cool Job: Making Model Organs for Med Schools

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Using materials like badminton shuttle cocks, lima beans and cardboard, Dr. Carla Pugh of Northwestern University's medical school makes practice models of scrotums, breasts, colons and vaginas.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

So Alison, doctors are not supposed to be squeamish.

ALISON STEWART, host:

I hope not.

MARTIN: You know, they come contact with all sorts of bodily fluids, and they see gory guts and stuff that a lot of us only see in movies, if at all, 'cause you're covering up your eyes. But many of these doctors, they didn't always walk into an exam room with confidence. During their first years in med school, they may have sweated or trembled through the first gynecological exam with an undressed patient. Apparently, this is something that makes some doctors kind of embarrassed and nervous and shy, which you wouldn't necessarily think.

And there's a surgeon and professor at Northwestern University. She has patented this method that hopefully is providing some relief to these doctors who get a little bit embarrassed. And we are going to talk to this surgeon-turned-inventor, as part of a story that we Ripped Off…

(Soundbite of "Law & Order" transition sound)

MARTIN: …From the Headlines. The New York Times headlines, that is. Dr. Carla Pugh, professor and associate director at the Center for Advanced Surgical Education at Northwestern joins us now on the line. Hi, Dr. Pugh.

Professor CARLA PUGH (Professor, Associate Director, Advanced Surgical Education, Northwestern University): Hi, Rachel. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm doing just fine. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Prof. PUGH: Thank you.

MARTIN: Describe to us, first of all, you make these anatomical simulators. What are these things, and what are they meant to do?

Prof. PUGH: Well, basically, they're physical models. And I don't make the - their mannequin-based models. I don't make the mannequins myself. Usually, I buy them off the shelf from other companies that make them. But what I do is add sensors to the mannequins and also different anatomy, so that I can have a range of clinical presentations for the students. And the sensors enable us to see on a computer screen where students are touching and with how much pressure, and give us feedback as to whether they're performing the examination correctly.

MARTIN: And make the link for us. Why did you feel like you needed to create these kind of models for doctors to learn with?

Prof. PUGH: Oh, I mean, just from my own personal experience as a medical student. It's just sort of known. It's know amongst the medical community for us that, I mean, these are difficult things to learn. It's embarrassing. The feedback is difficult, especially for something like a prostate examination or clinical female pelvic exam, because they're internal examinations. And so when you're learning, the instructor cannot see where your fingers are.

MARTIN: So in med school, are you telling me that you didn't have models that teach - would you think that in med school you would learn how to do this on appropriate models, so that when you go into the real situation, you're experienced and you're confident, and it goes off without a hitch. But that wasn't the case in med school?

Prof. PUGH: It is not a - what can I say? It's not a highly-funded market to be in the mannequin business for medical education. So the models that were there were, many times, horribly inaccurate. And even still, you could do an exam on the model, but without the sensor technology that I developed, you still could not see what you were doing. And an instructor, you know, you knew that the instructor may give you feedback, but they can't tell you for sure that you're touching the right places.

MARTIN: So what are doctor's personal hang-ups with giving these exams? I imagine you've talked to quite a few people, med students or residents. What are people freaked out about?

Prof. PUGH: Well, actually there's two things. It sort of takes a shift between first-year medical students and second-year medical students. And we have to remember, first-year medical students are pretty much fresh out of college. And so it's almost a night-and-day experience, where they're in college, and largely, they're responsible for content and passing examinations. And then the next day, they're responsible for a human being. That's a huge shift in responsibility.

And so for the first-year students, they are really struggling with intimate/personal nature of the examination. They're worried, you know, that they're going to burst out, you know, in a sweat, or stutter in front of the patient. I mean, they want to appear as if they're professional, you know…

MARTIN: And they're human beings. I guess it's human nature that we kind of…

Prof. PUGH: Yeah.

MARTIN: …we're a little bit shy when it comes to that. You just think of - you think doctors kind of get over that. They're anesthetized to that somehow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PUGH: Yeah, there's a process. And again, like I said, by the second year, then the biggest fear, actually, is causing harm. So you want to make sure that you're doing the exam correctly. The worst thing that you could do is make a patient so uncomfortable, or get a bad response from a patient.

MARTIN: Or miss something, right? If you're not doing - if you're too occupied with being embarrassed, then you might miss something in examinations.

Prof. PUGH: Oh, of course. And all of those factor in to the examination. I published a paper called "Fear of Missing a Lesion." You know, for students who are learning to do a breast exam, it's a huge issue.

MARTIN: Now you - along with the sensor technology, you also put together your own kind of models. When you have a lesson to teach and you think of a body part and you need a model for it, you go out and make them, right, out of kind of rudimentary materials.

Prof. PUGH: Yes, I do. I mean, I go anywhere that I can go to find materials. The first stores that I've usually found things that are helpful are the hobby shops. They have, you know, various materials of different…

MARTIN: And tell us what you're making. What's a model that you've made recently?

Prof. PUGH: So I buy breast models from a company that sells a mannequin for training the breast exam. But for me, many times, the companies that make them, the models are either too hard or too soft, and they don't have enough variability. So what I will do is add layers of material that might create fibrocystic changes in a breast, for example. I may add various sized masses that can represent various breast tumors. And I've built in cysts, so that the students can learn to tell the difference between a solid mass and a cystic mass, and then also practice aspirating a cyst.

MARTIN: Well, we should you tell you - you're probably aware of this, but one of your students wrote a blog post titled, "Why I Love My School: Reason Number 54, The Triple X-rated Med School Teacher." So clearly, you've developed a reputation for your models. They're capturing student's attention. Hopefully, they're learning something from them, as well.

Dr. Carla Pugh, professor and associate director at the Center for Advanced Surgical Education at Northwestern. Thanks very much.

Prof. PUGH: Thank you.

MARTIN: Take care.

Prof. PUGH: Bye.

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