Earth and space may be vastly different settings, but they share a common need: clinically trained staff who can skillfully respond to medical emergencies. A multidisciplinary team of BWHers is working outside of their usual orbit and developing a tool that can help astronaut crews respond to medical events in deep space.

The project has its roots in a program that Steven Yule, PhD, director of Education and Research at BWH’s Neil and Elise Wallace STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation, developed with his colleagues a decade ago while he was at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. The Non-Technical Skills for Surgeons (NOTSS) behavior rating tool was created to assess and improve surgeons’ nontechnical skills, such as situation awareness, decision-making, communication, teamwork and leadership.

Yule and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the STRATUS Center and BWH’s Center for Surgery and Public Health, as well as experts from other institutions, are now developing and assessing a nontechnical skills training program for astronauts on human-exploration missions to Mars, near-Earth asteroids or the moon.

“The only thing the simulated bay will not have that the real medical bay does have is zero gravity.”
-Steven Yule

The team – which recently received a $400,000 grant from NASA’s National Space Biomedical Research Institute to fund the project – consists of experts in training and simulation, human factors, emergency medicine and surgery.

The first part of the project involves identifying and assessing which skills are essential for astronaut crews for responding to in-flight medical emergencies effectively, with the goals of enhancing proficiency, reducing errors and improving patient outcomes.

“These are skills like leadership, communication, teamwork and situational awareness – the kind of skills that are really important for team function and dynamic in high-risk situations, but aren’t formally taught to medical teams, nor are they being assessed,” said Yule, the project’s principal investigator.

The second part of the project is to create a simulated spacecraft medical bay in the STRATUS Center and run a series of filmed simulation scenarios to fine-tune the assessment tool and gauge its accuracy in measuring improvement.

“We want to recreate what the medical situation is really like in that environment so we can start to run training courses and evaluate competence of performance in simulation,” explained Yule. “The only thing the simulated bay will not have that the real medical bay does have is zero gravity. It will be using a lot of the same equipment, sensors and technology.”