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From simulation to innovation: MHC nursing student pursues entrepreneurship

March 23, 2015

Shelby LeBel’s accident-prone youth has not only inspired her to pursue a career in nursing, but the dream of entrepreneurship.

LeBel, a native of Swift Current, Saskatchewan and third year nursing student at Medicine Hat College (MHC), had a very active childhood – one that landed her in the hospital on numerous occasions – thanks to her participation in volleyball, basketball, motocross and competitive hockey.

“I spent a lot of time in hospitals with never-ending injuries,” recalled LeBel with a smile. But unlike most kids in similar situations, she enjoyed her trips to the emergency room.

“The atmosphere always intrigued me. I was always wondering what the nurses and doctors were doing.”

Following high school and a bad knee injury, LeBel moved sports to the sidelines and focused her energy on education. She relocated to Medicine Hat and enrolled in the University of Calgary Bachelor of Nursing degree offered at MHC.

Simulation is a critical component of the nursing program, providing students with real-life medical scenarios to enhance their training. Advantages of high fidelity patient simulation include customized learning experiences, a safe environment to make mistakes, performance feedback and debriefing - all with no risk of patient harm.

Although simulation mannequins can breathe, talk, blink, cry - even bleed – there are limits to what these mannequins can do.

“They’re all the same,” said LeBel of current simulator technology As a result of their limitations, people have started making accessories for these mannequins to expand training opportunities. After hearing about other entrepreneurs in this field, she was inspired to create her own product to simulate Ascites, an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity that can result from liver disease or heart failure.

“My mind is always racing, always coming up with new ideas but this one stuck in my head,” said the young entrepreneur.

With a full class schedule, LeBel still found time develop a prototype, research manufacturers, meet with potential backers and promote her product. Just over a year later, her Ascites training module is on the market.

Attaching easily to all types of simulators, the product has been designed to produce a realistic fluid wave when pressure is applied to either side of the abdomen and can be adjusted to represent different levels of severity in the condition.

 “If we receive a scenario in class of a patient with heart or liver failure, Ascites is a common symptom that may present itself. This product better prepares nurses for real cases, as they would have seen the condition before and understand what it is.”

To make her idea a reality, LeBel met with MHC’s Office of Innovation and Scholarship for guidance. She was connected with Alberta Innovation Technology Futures and received funding to conduct prior art and patentability searches. She also worked with the college’s Entrepreneur Development Centre and enrolled in its summer company program, which provides students an opportunity to start a business and benefit from business coaching and mentorship.

“The college has been nothing but supportive,” said LeBel, about the people and resources in place to guide her through the process.

While she acknowledges the benefits of having a business background, LeBel believes having passion is equally important.

“Ideas are the easy part. There’s a lot of hard work, effort and time required to get this far.  I believe if you want something, go out and get it. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s an awesome learning experience.”

The Ascites training module is now available for purchase online at