A medical student, brought to an office on the fourth floor of the Braker Building to interview for the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine residency program, looks around the room with a puzzled expression before saying to the interviewer, “What is this place?”

Good Question.

The office of Dr. Mina Attaalla, director of the department’s Simulation Education and Informatics (now located in the Simulation Lab in the annex), bears a passing resemblance to Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Tools and computer parts jockey for position with plastic models of various body parts on the floor and atop desks and shelves.

It’s here, in what Dr. Attaalla and Dr. Jeffrey Lazar, the department’s vice chair and medical director, playfully call “paradise for nerds,” where the two self-acclaimed “mad scientists” create life-like models with 3-D printers.

“We produce different body parts that are relevant to emergency medicine and can be used by our residents to practice their skills at a fraction of what it would normally cost,” says Dr. Attaalla, who spends about 30 hours a month building the 3-D models – in many cases on his own time when he’s not busy with administrative, clinical and teaching responsibilities. These body parts, which can range from a thorax to a skull to a spinal canal, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several days to produce and can cost thousands of dollars less than mass-produced training and educational models.

“It’s an intersection between art and science which is how I see medicine,” says Dr. Lazar, a working artist who expresses himself in such mediums as abstract sculpture, Japanese printing and paper collage. “These models are not only functional but beautiful to look at.”

Models are covered with materials that simulate the feel of human tissue, providing a real-world experience for residents practicing procedures that range from lumbar puncture to cricothyroidotomy.

The latter is an emergency procedure used to create an airway when other, more routine, methods are ineffective or contraindicated. This is a skill that emergency medicine physicians must master to prevent patient morbidity or mortality. “We want our residents to feel what it’s like to do this, and it’s certainly better to let them practice on a model than on a patient, when it can be a matter of life and death,” says Dr. Attaalla.

In fact, when asked how confident they were in doing this procedure before the simulation exercise, residents reported 3 out of 10 with 10 being the most confident. Practicing on the home- bred model raised their confidence level to an 8.5.

Dr. Attaalla, who is now working with his counterparts at New York Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan and St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers to develop more sophisticated models (including one that can induce bleeding), says he is planning soon to offer these prototypes for training and educational purposes throughout SBH.