Robots help University of Idaho dietetics students in North Idaho

Wednesday, March 7 2012

Simulation robots that talk back are helping University of Idaho dietetics students gain experience with problems like cardiac care and renal failure.

The novel approach to clinical education is proving its worth as the third group of dietetics students progresses through their clinical rotations in hospitals across southern Idaho and the Idaho Panhandle this spring. The robot exercises are a cooperative effort with North Idaho College.

Shifting from humans to simulation robots in 2010 allowed Coeur d’Alene-based dietetics faculty to intensify students’ clinical training, said SeAnne Safaii, an associate professor of dietetics there. The program is in the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“This is a national trend, but we’re one of the rare educational programs at the present with standards and protocols in place,” Safaii said. She is studying the effects on students’ educational progress and last fall presented a report about the efforts to the National Dietetics Association conference in San Diego.

“Student sessions are watched live by the preceptors or trainers through cameras. As students exit the ‘patient’s’ room, they are debriefed about what they did correctly, what they could have done better, and student reaction to the experience. The benefit of simulation is in the debriefing sessions,” Safaii said. Students explore seven of a hospital dietitian’s most common medical cases.

More information is available from Seanne Safaii at