Ben Wilson has a rare profession indeed. As one of 314 certified healthcare simulation operations specialists in the world, Wilson programs, operates and maintains lifelike manikins used in medical training.

What do you do? I work as a technology manager at (Seattle-based) InSytu Advanced Healthcare Simulation. We use lifelike, computer operated manikins to simulate real patients, allowing medical professionals to improve their practice and teamwork in a low-risk environment.

The simulated patients are very cool, and some people think they’re a little creepy. They can have IVs placed, and they bleed, cry, talk, sweat, groan and even have babies. InSytu simulates with clinical teams in real patient care areas to improve the team’s processes, communication and safety behaviors to ensure the highest quality and safest care.

How did you get that job? I was working as a desktop support analyst, with previous experience as a corporate trainer, when my wife and I decided to have our first child. The stress of impending fatherhood led me to apply for every job I thought I might be qualified for. I accepted a job at a local hospital in something called a simulation lab, where I would work with simulation manikins until I found something “better” to do.

I moved to InSytu a year later. … After nearly six years, I still haven’t found anything else I’d like to do more.

What’s a typical day like? I arrive on-site first with our simulator and equipment to get set up at the hospital, which often includes a classroom, a patient room and an operating room. Soon the rest of our team — an RN and physician facilitator — arrives to ensure the setup is clinically accurate and prepare for the day.

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We usually conduct three two-hour simulation sessions per day, and my job is to “be the man behind the curtain.” I help maintain the realism by programming and operating the manikin during the simulation. I may need to make the manikin groan in answer to a nurse’s question or I may make him vomit or have a seizure. To get the best results it is important that the manikin behaves as closely to a real patient as possible.

I am also responsible for maintaining and resetting the manikin in between sessions, which may mean adding simulated blood to the reservoir or preparing a newborn manikin for its repeat birth experience. 

Any funny manikin stories? When we work locally, the simulators are transported in the back of my SUV. My 5-year-old and 2-year-old are scared of them — I usually have to cover them with a sheet to keep the peace. While I’ve never used one in the carpool lane, I’ve been tempted. I mean, they breathe, have a pulse and can talk, so I’m good, right?

Sometimes on flights I take the infant simulators as my carry-on, but never once has the TSA asked to inspect it.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of the job is knowing how many patients’ lives my work positively impacts. In any given shift, a nurse or a doctor cares for a handful of patients. With simulation, each day I can positively impact as many as 30 or 40 caregivers, whose practice will improve with their patients for the rest of their careers. It feels great and sure beats working in a typical corporate culture.

What surprises people about what you do? The most common reaction to my job is “I didn’t know that was a job.” To which I reply, “I didn’t know either until I started doing it.”

Once we get past that, people typically say, “How much do the simulators cost” (don’t ask), “How’d you learn how to do that?” (on-the-job training) and “Cool! I want to do that! Are you hiring?”

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