Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 09:41 GMT
Dummy run for surgeons
The mannequin behaves like an ordinary patient
US surgery students are being put through their paces by a mannequin which behaves like a real patient undergoing an operation.
The £100,000 patient simulator, nicknamed "Jessica", helps let the students know what to expect from a real patient.
Traditionally, trainee surgeons participate in real operations to acquire the necessary skills, but this can put patients at slight risk, and be intimidating for the student.
"Jessica", which has been installed at a Californian University hospital, has all the vital signs which are usually monitored during an operation.
Heartbeat and blood pressure
The dummy has a heartbeat, blood pressure and can breathe. All of these functions can vary in response to an error by the surgeon or anaesthetist.
The mannequin can even blink or have dilated pupils at the touch of a button.
It is a big success with students. One told the BBC: "Each time we go through the simulation, it makes it a lot easier to get on with the job, and put emotion to one side."
Surgeon David Gada, who is overseeing the project, said: "It's true the patient is made of plastic, but the equipment is real.
"We try hard to make the model as realistic as possible - it's pretty real."
In addition, the trainers can introduce further complications during the operations to make life tougher for the budding surgeons.
Afterwards, their whole performance can be analysed during a debriefing session.
At £100,000, the model is actually a cheaper way of training surgeons than many established methods.
The problem of the "learning curve" of new surgeons is not particular to the United States.
It is commonplace in the UK that freshly-qualified surgeons may achieve slightly worse results than their more experienced colleagues.