Fangfang Xing: Bringing the Mannequin to Life

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Fangfang Xing is a resident in Anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA. He spent the month of May at the Center for Medical Simulation on an elective rotation. The goal of the rotation program is to expose residents to the potential and operational use of simulation for education, clinical training and research. Over the course of the month, residents develop simulation scenarios including patient records, plot, setup, debriefing notes, and references.

“My month at the Center for Medical Simulation ended like a locomotive arriving to the station with a satisfying hiss of steam and a jovial conductor whistle. An odyssey of inspired medical spectacles, delectable debriefings, and at times uncomfortably piercing self-reflection now firmly inform my practice as a physician and clinical instructor. I feel a debt of gratitude to everyone in the CMS community. You have taught me in ways that can be described in the words of Isaac Newton as “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

During the month I often pondered about the “life” of the mannequin. After all, we spoke to it by name, appreciated the rhythm of its physiology, and applied medical treatments as it adapted to disease. We even debated the ethics of mannequin death for our students. I suppose these exercises were abstractions or simulations as the mannequin, after all, cannot metabolize or reproduce like life. However, it does break down the building blocks of education and it does beget vital clinical lessons for generations of healers.

For me, the mannequin does not technically have “life” and this separation is important as it precariously straddles realism and learning safety. It reminds me of Mary Shelly’s book Frankenstein where a scientist brings to life a creature that is an amalgam of corpses. People often confuse Frankenstein as the name of the creature but in fact it is the name of the scientist, whose personal suffering and moral dilemma after his deed is the focus of the book. I believe the mannequin is like Frankenstein’s creature, a direct reflection of its creators that demands a solemn responsibility for social engagement.

Dear Mr. and Ms. Mannequin, even though you are not alive, you inspire the life of a community of educators, you teach healers how to save lives, and you challenge the living to appreciate life.”

–Fangfang Xing, MD