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Medical Makeup Applies Realism to Education

July 5, 2012

nurse sim makeup
Staff in Drexel's Center for Interdisciplinary Clinical Simulation use medical makeup to mimic cuts and burns on human skin.
John Cornele, an instructor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, says that during his days as an undergraduate nursing student, he would have never imagined he’d eventually tout “medical makeup application” as one of his most useful skills.

But now, as the simulation coordinator of the Center for Interdisciplinary Clinical Simulation (CICSP), Cornele said medical re-creations are one of the most effective methods of nursing education.

“Medical makeup and re-creations are creeping into medical simulation to make it more realistic,” Cornele said. “It’s all designed to increase the fabric of reality.”

Each quarter, the CICSP hosts a certificate program in clinical simulation, where the participants will learn to manage simulation labs for training health professionals at their home institutions. Upon entering the weeklong program, the participants expect a classroom workshop in the use of standardized patients—actors portraying patients to provide interpersonal training for the students—and manikins.

Early on the first day of the session, participants are interrupted with a simulated emergency situation and are tasked with reacting to the disaster on hand and treating the simulated patients.

“You’ve got 25 people who need to engage and often don’t have the mentality of a student,” said Carol Okupniak, director of the CICSP. “The point in simulating the emergency is not necessarily to see how they would react; it’s also to show them how students feel in a complicated, unfamiliar scenario.”

In the CICSP’s most recent program, the staff simulated a scenario in which a house fire—caused by a meth lab explosion in the basement—interrupts a family graduation party in a rural town.

For the CICSP staff, that meant they would need to recreate lots of cuts, scrapes, burns and blisters on their actors, manikins and their wardrobes.

“It’s theater-quality makeup—the same as in a movie or on TV,” Cornele said. “We use silicone molding to create wounds, adjusting things to look realistic.”

He said medical makeup, known as medical moulage, is the art of recreating injuries for training purposes—a technique that has been used since the 16th century.

“Educators would find a person who had an abnormality, and they would make a cast out of it to refer to when teaching students,” Cornele said. “That has evolved, and now it’s used to enhance realism.”

“For me, medical moulage began as a hobby,” he added. “But it’s been very useful in creating simulations that are effective teaching tools.”

Cornele said that while he is “not like a Hollywood makeup artist,” he and his colleagues have a unique perspective when it comes to applying lifelike medical moulage.

“Our work has to be seen from just two to three feet away, so it has to be precise,” Cornele said. “We’ve seen real wounds—real burns, real broken legs and blisters. That’s the value we have as medical professionals, and the more realistic we can make it for the students, the more realistic their learning scenario is going to be.”

To learn more about the CICSP, click here.