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Sim Educator’s MacGyver-Inspired Training Props Conserve Critical Resources

Nurse with face mask.
Training with mock personal protective equipment (PPE) is one way VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System is conserving supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. Primary care physician Dr. Sarah Merriam was one of the first students to take the PPE refresher training.

Though not dodging bullets, bombs or bad guys like Angus “Mac” MacGyver of TV legend before him, Jose Perez saw a need for something and invented it.

Using paper towels, rubber bands, folder fasteners, masking and packing tape, and a stapler, Perez created mock surgical masks for staff training at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

But the simulation educator didn’t stop there. He found old, unused overhead projector transparencies and created mock face shields; then he found a non-medical substitute for gloves and gowns.

“I’m part of a simulation forum online. It’s worldwide,” Perez said about creating the masks. “I credit my theater background -- that stuff happens all the time.”

Perez earned his master’s in theater in 2017, shortly before starting at VA Pittsburgh. When he isn’t working, he focuses on stage fight choreography, writing and his theater group, where everything from swords to costumes are made from scratch.

Now he’s creating mock props for training staff on properly using and disposing of personal protective equipment (PPE) to reinforce their skills as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold of the country.

“They need the physical objects to practice the motion of putting it on and taking it off. It’s muscle memory,” Perez said.

The course is offered to very small groups and follows social distancing guidance.

“The basic principle is really the same as any other isolation situation clinical staff deal with,” said David Julian, administrative director of the sim center and designated learning officer at VA Pittsburgh. “The difference now is the social distancing for everyone, even in classrooms.”

Sim educators are especially important, Julian stressed, because of their ability to innovate during a crisis.

“This is just one example. All of our staff are looking at innovative ways to meet the needs of our staff caring for our Veterans,” said Julian.

Perez's mock PPE conserves real PPE for real patients and helps keep staff and Veterans safe, but like MacGuyver, Perez takes his innovations in stride. 

“Sim has been a nice fit. It has a similar spirit to theater, ‘If it doesn’t seem to have been invented, why don’t we just make it?’” Perez said.

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