Innovative collaboration enhances critical life-saving practice for paramedic students

Rob Theriault, a Georgian College paramedic program professor, devised an innovative solution to enhance life-saving skills for his students utilizing high-tech 3D-printing technology to create low-cost simulated tracheas.

“Life-saving procedures involving the trachea are a low frequency, high-risk set of skills that students need to practise frequently to stay competent,” said Theriault. “My advanced-care paramedic students can even practise cricothyrotomies – a procedure that involves placing a tube through an incision in the cricothyroid membrane to establish an airway for oxygenation and ventilation – a skill they may require in emergency situations.”

Simulated tracheas are quite expensive and students would have to take turns practising their skills in class, so he did some research to find a solution to his student-to-trachea challenge. After reading an emergency medicine blog, he discovered how to create low-cost simulated tracheas using 3D printing.

Theriault downloaded the 3D file and contacted Virginia Barlow, a computer programming student, who works part-time as a technician at the Peter B. Moore Changemaker Space at Georgian’s Barrie Campus. The space is home to students from across the college who collaborate on changemaking projects and start-up initiatives. It’s a place to imagine, tinker and create. Together, Theriault and Barlow created a dozen tracheas for the paramedic students.

“These simulators would probably cost between $50 and $150 each, but we were able to produce 12 for Rob’s class for less than four dollars a unit,” said Barlow.

Now, more of paramedic students can practise simultaneously and more often, allowing them to finesse their skills. Theriault says innovations at the maker space make these kinds of learning opportunities both possible and affordable.

“It’s great when faculty and students can work together on these kinds of initiatives and find solutions that enhance the learning environment for everyone,” he said. “It’s a win-win partnership.”

Barlow says the changemaker space is her favourite place to be.

“I did my first co-op here in the summer and stayed on during this semester, part-time, as the technician,” she said. “I’ll be returning here for my next co-op as well.”

She says students and staff are welcome to visit the space to see what they do and use the 3D printer, laser cutter and other machines. The space can also be used for school or personal projects.

“Students create prototypes or finished products for their IOT (Internet of things) year-end projects as well as parts for tech projects from their electrical courses,” said Barlow.

Photo: Georgian College advanced care paramedic students (from the left) Eric Ellis, Mitch Sinclair and Kenny Cheng hold up trachea models made with a 3D printer. Computer programming student Virginia Barlow (far right) helped facilitate the project.

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