Washington University Statement about the Pediatric Advanced Life Support Training Class (PALS): The PALS course at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine uses mannequins and anesthetized cats when training health care professionals to perform life saving intubation procedures in babies.
Intubation involves threading a flexible plastic tube into the throat to help a baby breathe. It requires precision and speed and is achallenging skill to master. The need for competent and confident providers at a baby's bedside at the critical time of intubation cannot be overstated.
To teach medical personnel how to do this procedure, we have them first practice on a mannequin and then on an anesthetized cat. The mannequin is ideal for learning basic techniques, but the cat provides a more realistic experience to what health care providers will encounter when intubating a baby.
Cats have upper airway anatomy and reflexes that closely resemble an infant's, and studies have demonstrated that using anesthetized cats helps improve technique and confidence.
Mannequins offer a wonderful training tool, but we don't believe mannequins are as effective as using mannequins and a live animal. Even the most sophisticated simulator doesn't yet provide the same movements and reflexes of an infant.
When we ask our students to evaluate the life-like characteristics of intubating anesthetized cats and mannequins, they overwhelmingly favor the learning experience with cats, saying it is more realistic. Students report a cat gives them a better opportunity to visualize vocal cords that are moving and to learn to coordinate intubation with the animal's breathing. They also report greater confidence to deal more adequately with infant and pediatric emergencies.
In the 20-plus years we have offered the course, no cat has died or been injured. Veterinarians and vet technicians who advocate passionately for the cats and care for them like pets oversee the lab. The cats live in an open room where they roam freely and are played with by our staff.
The animal lab is short, approximately 20 minutes long, and the cats feel no discomfort. The cats participate a few times a year over a three-year period before being adopted into loving families.
It takes a tremendous amount of time, work and expense to run our PALS course. We have trainees who appreciate our effort and travel long distances so they can attend our course. While we believe animal training is a valuable teaching tool, participants may opt out of that part of the program.
Statement via Joni Westerhouse from WashU's Office of Medical Public Affairs.