All entries for Tuesday 15 March 2011

March 15, 2011

Please sir, can I have some more?

Dr Jane Kidd, Associate Professor Clinical Communication, gives an insight into how first year medical students cope with their training with ‘simulated patients’

Ask any first year student studying effective communication, which aspect of teaching they want more of, and the answer is nearly always to conduct a consultation with someone ‘pretending’ to be a patient or what's known as a 'simulated' patient.

Our first years have just completed their first session with a simulated patient in the safe environment of our Medical Teaching Centre. The students are presented with various patients with a variety of symptoms and our would-be doctors are assessed on their performance. Feedback is provided around the content and communication related to three of the tasks of the consultation: opening the consultation, gathering information and establishing a relationship with the patient.

Although initially the thought of performing an interview which is being recorded is daunting for many students, this is a way of bringing together the medical theory they have studied so far, and combine it with communication skills to practice and hone their talent in a safe, observed environment.

Without a white coat in sight (that’s one urban myth I want to dispel: no-one wears them as they are an infection risk) they work in small groups of four with each student taking turns in being both an observer and conducting a consultation.Peer observation is a great way of picking up ideas and techniques on how to improve their own style and conduct and it’s great to see the progress made by students as their confidence grows.

While the students have usually had very little experience of working in this way, our pool of pretend patients are, in contrast, very experienced. The people we use have a knack of presenting very realistic symptoms ranging from headaches with blurred vision to abdominal pain. Their part in the assessment process is also very valuable and they give feedback from a patient’s perspective, reflecting on their experience during the consultation and take into consideration the student’s non-verbal behaviour, their language and explanation.

Students understand that perfection is not expected at this early stage… training to be a doctor takes time. But one thing is guaranteed: whenever we host the simulated patient sessions, our students always ask for more!

Dr Jane Kidd's role is to work with our students to enhance the effective communication skills that our graduates arrive with and develop the clinical communication skills that will enable our future doctors to perform in a way that their patients and colleagues will expect of a 21st century practitioner.

March 2011

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