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VOL. 126 | NO. 15 | Monday, January 24, 2011

Medical Impact

MERI moves to forefront for medical training

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Daily News

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The Medical Education & Research Institute has evolved into one of the elite medical training facilities in the country. The center’s list of faculty and students reads like a “Who’s Who” of medicine from all over the world.

Rebecca Brown, left, and Emily Cashman prepare the donor for a medical course in the anatomical lab at the Medical Education & Research Institute (MERI), a nonprofit medical teaching and training facility. MERI conducts state-of-the-art, hands-on educational courses for physicians from across the country and around the world. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The nonprofit medical teaching and training school touts itself as a turn-key operation that is a one-stop shop for state-of-the-art, hands-on training using un-embalmed anatomic donors and human patient electronic simulators. The center has been open for 16 years and employs a staff of 44.

“It’s critical that physicians stay up to date,” said Diana Kelly, MERI manager of institutional development. “The more practice they get before surgery, the better for all of us.”

MERI educates 11,200 students from all medical specialties each year, plus another 4,000 people involved in the care process. Students include physicians, nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetists, EMS providers, respiratory therapists, health care professional students, pharmacists and physician assistants.

The center’s impact on the Memphis economy is substantial, with projections for 2011 to be $45 million brought into the area from physician’s visits and other MERI business. Donations to MERI in 2010 totaled approximately $1 million.

The facility features five stations equipped with the latest technology to replicate an ICU, an ER/Trauma, a general patient room, a labor and delivery room and OR suites. Researchers and students can experience more than 95 pre-developed customizable medical scenarios.

Several new human patient simulators were purchased at the end of last year thanks to a grant from The Assisi Foundation of Memphis Inc. MERI’s nine human patient simulators are able to cry and breathe; they have teeth, fingernails and bodily fluids; and their pupils even dilate. Each is wired to be voiced by someone from an outside control room.

“Working with the high-fidelity human patient simulators, we can establish everyday situations to practice intubations, trauma scenarios like car wrecks and disaster training,” Kelly said.

The simulation rooms are outfitted with AV equipment so training sessions can be recorded and then reviewed.

MERI works with 80 medical device companies, professional associations and societies. The center also supports students from the area’s three largest medical device companies: Medtronic Inc., Wright Medical Group Inc. and Smith & Nephew.

Partnerships with manufacturers like ImmersiveTouch and its virtual simulators will lead to the creation of three-dimensional models of patient anatomy and particular ailments. Working with the virtual simulators is designed to feel the same as performing real surgeries, and it also allows the surgeons to practice without exposure to radiation.

Shelby County Health Department workers take a course on patient tracking scanners at MERI, a nonprofit medical teaching and training facility. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

“Surgeons need time to practice with these devices,” said Elizabeth J. Ostric, MERI’s executive director. “The result is safer outcomes from surgical procedures, and we all benefit from that.”

Much of the center’s research and education is made possible by human donors. Genesis is the center’s willed body donor program for people that wish to donate their bodies for the advancement of science.

“Our donors enable the doctors to have real-world practice opportunities,” Ostric said. “It’s the donors’ final way to give one last thing back to their fellow human beings.”

More than 600 donors were received last year. Eighty percent of those donors came from Tennessee and the surrounding states, and 200 of the 600 donors had prior military experience. MERI has a morgue onsite, and they can keep as many as 300 donors at one time. The donors can be used for tests for between six months and one year.

MERI also conducts emergency preparedness training both at its facility on Cleveland Avenue and at 1381 Madison Ave. across the street, an older building that MERI bought in 2009. A recent training exercise involved Shelby County emergency responders getting a practice run through a bombing incident, with search and rescue, triage and anatomy sessions.

“It’s a great benefit for the community,” Kelly said. “This way, the entire county of first responders can work together, and it helps nurses and paramedics to communicate better as a team.”

The disaster training courses are funded by a $250,000 matching grant from the Plough Foundation and financial support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Metropolitan Medical Response System Program.

Dr. Joe Holley has been conducting volunteer training sessions at MERI for more than two years. He is director of the Emergency Department at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville and is the medical director of EMS for Tennessee. He is also medical director of the Tennessee Task Force One’s FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team.

“It’s a fabulous place to do training,” Holley said. “The MERI is very unique in the type of training it offers thanks to its excellent simulators, cadaver labs, mock ups and test rooms. Plus, they can take their entire show on the road. The capabilities are amazing.”

The center’s Mobile MERI unit includes a refrigerated vehicle that transports donors and equipment. It allows the center to provide courses and support off-site anywhere in the U.S. The unit can be set up in spaces like hotel ballrooms, convention centers or corporate headquarters.

MERI upgraded its conference facilities in 2010 by building a 50-seat auditorium and multipurpose room and installing a kitchen. The center’s conference area can now accommodate two separate groups with as many as 80 people.

MERI also contributed to the community last year by providing roughly $200,000 in “in-kind” training for local community organizations like the Church Health Center and local paramedics.

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