Not-so-Glorious History of the Forceps

Taken for granted today, the modern forceps was once a family trade secret. Around 1600, Peter Chamberlen of England adapted an ancient device originally used to remove stillborn babies from the mother for use in live births. The eminent Mr. Chamberlen parlayed his invention to build a 130-year obstetric dynasty (two words you'll never hear together again). His device and usage method was passed down through several generations. To preserve confidentiality of the invention, the Chamberlen family doctors would conceal the forceps in a huge wooden box during transport, blindfold the expectant mother and clear all other people out of the delivery room. In 1728, Hugh Chamberlen, lacking an heir to pass the secret to and getting on in years himself, finally spilled the beans.

Simulator Use in Medical Training

Medical schools all over the world are educating students with birth simulators like Noelle, and more schools are making the investment in sophisticated simulators to round out their training programs [source: Elias]. These powerful robots don't come cheap. Are they worth the money?

Britt Guerrero, a practicing ARNP (Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner), worked in the training laboratory at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and says these simulators are "very critical" to the training of obstetricians and related medical personnel, including nurse mid-wives. Other studies back her up, citing staff and student surveys regarding how valuable they believe the simulator training was based on their experience [source: Davis].

A common complaint, though, is that empirical research on the cost-effectiveness of sophisticated robotic birth simulators is lagging behind their use. In fact, one research study implied there was no significant difference in the overall amount of learning between a control group without simulator access and one training on simulators [source: Reynolds].

Still, it's hard to argue that using a birth simulator isn't helpful; practice makes perfect, right? So while the jury may be out regarding hard data, most medical schools consider the cost of simulators worth the increased safety of mother and child, especially when so many other competing schools are utilizing the technology.

This also raises the question of just how closely simulators mimic the real thing. Let's pull back the gown and see what makes these robots tick.