September 27, 2005

Medical students learn on ‘breathing’ robots

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Faced with a growing number of
medical students and few training hospitals, a Mexican
university is turning to robotic patients to better train
future doctors.

On Monday, Mexico City's UNAM University opened the world's
largest "robotic hospital" where medical students practice on
everything from delivering a baby from a robotic dummy to
injecting the arm of a plastic toddler.

The robots are dummies complete with mechanical organs,
synthetic blood and mechanical breathing systems.

"The country's rapid increase of medical students has not
kept up with the number of medical facilities," said Joaquin
Lopez Barcena, an associate dean at the university's medical
school. "This a very a good learning opportunity for our

The $1.3 million facility has 24 robotic patients and a
computer software program that can simulate illnesses ranging
from diabetes to a heart attack.

For Paola Mendoza Cortez, a first-year medical student, the
robotic patients offer peace of mind.

"I would feel nervous if this was (a) real patient," said
Mendoza after drawing blood from a plastic arm. "With this
(dummy patient) I can practice many times."

With close to 15,000 enrolled students, UNAM has one of the
largest medical school in Latin America. There are about 70,000
medical students enrolled in Mexico, according to the Mexican
association of medical schools.

"There are medical schools sprouting out everywhere in this
country," said Martha Hijar, a medical researcher of the
Mexican Institute of Public Health. "This is a very well paid
major that offers status and that is why it is attracting so
many into the field."