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Val G. Hemming Simulation Center’s Simulated Wounds Are A Cut Above The Rest

Eric Singdahlsen applies makeup to the left eye of a man sitting in a chair while another man watches. The makeup gives the sitting man's eye the appearance of being bloody and damaged. Eric Singdahlsen, the External Programs manager and Hybrid Simulations manager in the Val G. Hemming Simulation Center, teaches enlisted Service members to apply moulage as a part of preparation for Operation Bushmaster. The enlisted are responsible for applying makeup to first-year medical students at the exercise who play the part of wounded in order to enhance the realism of the simulation for the fourth-year medical students being tested. (Image credit: Betsy Weissbrod)
  By Christopher Austin

WARNING The following images contain GRAPHIC CONTENT some viewers may find disturbing

Children are limited only by their imaginations when they pretend. Every part of their imaginary worlds - from the city streets populated by superheroes to the musty halls of crumbling castles – is left to their imagination. Grownups can pretend, too, but they often have ways of bringing their imagination to life.

The Val G. Hemming Simulation Center (SimCen) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) uses special effects (moulage) to bring to life realistic-looking injuries used to train students and other healthcare providers at the center and medical field exercises.

Operation Bushmaster is a major field exercise where first-year medical students play the part of wounded patients for fourth-year medical students to assess and treat. Eric Singdahlsen, the external programs and hybrid simulations manager at the SimCen, trains about a dozen service member volunteers to apply moulage to the students, who take part in several injury scenarios each day.

Simple moulage application uses makeup to create superficial wounds on the body, like bruises, burns, and abrasions. Larger simulated injuries like compound fractures or amputations require more time and effort beforehand to create silicone prosthetics that must be affixed to volunteers and blended in with makeup. Most “patients” during an exercise can have a variety of small and complex moulage, which together can be very time-consuming to apply.

From left to right and labeled as such below each picture: Moulage of a gunshot wound on a person’s upper arm, moulage of a large burn on a person’s leg, moulage of a stab wound on a person’s arm, and moulage of a bruise on a person’s left wrist.
Betsy Weissbrod, a certified medical illustrator with the SimCen, developed these temporary tattoos that can be quickly applied to simulated patients and enhanced with makeup to create stunning moulage. These kind of tattoos are frequently used in exercises to train medical students both in the field and in a clinical setting. (Image credit: Betsy Weissbrod at the Val G. Hemming Simulation Center)

“Depending on the complexity of the injury, it can take a long time. It has to do with how much of the person’s body is being affected. I might be able to put a burn on somebody’s arm in about 10 to 15 minutes, but if they have burns over 80 percent of their body then that’s going to take a lot longer,” said Singdahlsen.

Gwen Nelmes wears a period costume, with her uncovered skin bearing silver dollar-sized black splotches.
Education Coordinator Gwen Nelmes of the National Museum of
Health and Medicine, had moulage applied by staff in the Hybrid
Simulation Lab at the SimCen. These dark splotches represent
buboes, or swollen lymph nodes, that are a common symptom of
bubonic plague. The SimCen applied moulage to several visitors to
the museum as part of the Bites event, which was an exhibit
themed around different bites and the resulting rashes and effects
that can result from them. (Image credit: 
Image credit: Betsy
Weissbrod at the Val G. Hemming Simulation Center)
Betsy Weissbrod, a medical illustrator for the SimCen, designed a method to streamline moulage for smaller injuries through use of temporary tattoos. Weissbrod designs the injuries on the computer, then prints them out onto temporary tattoo paper that can be purchased from almost any store. This saves a lot of time not only applying the moulage, but training people to apply it as well. 

“[Using tattoos] didn’t start with moulage; we started with the first-year medical students’ physical exam course. They hadn’t taken anatomy yet, and we were asking them to do a head-to-toe physical exam on a patient. They don’t necessarily know surface anatomy to the underlying anatomy they’re looking at,” Weissbrod said. “We started by painting the students themselves; physically painting on their neck where the thyroid is, or where on their chest are the heart and lungs. We quickly realized that we didn’t have the time to paint the anatomy on the number of students and the amount of time they gave to us, so we made temporary tattoos with the anatomy.”

What used to require hours of teaching and hard work can now be applied in a matter of minutes with a moist paper towel. Even with the tattoos, makeup can be used to further enhance the injuries.

A shot of a torso wearing moulage of a stomach wound, complete with a simulated intestines sticking out.
Using three types of silicone, Weissbrod was able to produce moulage of an evisceration for an outside client. The scenario being tested saw two visitors to a building getting into an argument that got physical, and getting injured. One patient was stabbed in the abdomen, leading to evisceration. (Image credit: Betsy Weissbrod at the Val G. Hemming Simulation Center)

Due to their skill in moulage, the SimCen staff’s talent has been requested by other agencies within the Military Health System, including the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“They did a Halloween-themed event for the public called ‘Bites,’ and it was about different bite wounds,” Weissbrod said. “Some folks came in to talk about animal and insect bites, and the types of rashes and bite marks associated with them, and they asked us to come in and do moulage of them on the visitors.”