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How to be a super SPAL patient

by Barb Boose No Comments

The patients assessed by clinical students in DMU’s Standardized Performance Assessment Laboratory (SPAL) are all bona fide fakers.

They aren’t hypochondriacs, however. As “standardized patients” (SPs) who play the roles of actual patients, they play a critical role in preparing DMU students to diagnose and interact with real patients.

“We want our DMU people to be the best, so anything we can do as SPAL patients to be the best is important,” says standardized patient “Sue.” (Students are not supposed to know the patients’ real names.) “They can make all their mistakes with us.”

An SP for six years, Sue merits an Oscar for all the symptoms she’s portrayed. Her performance advice:

  • Engage in training. For every case, the SPs receive three to four hours’ training by SPAL staff. They learn what to say and look for in the students’ performances. “We all want to be consistent and give each student an equal chance for success,” Sue says.
  • Study. SPs learn the symptoms they’re supposed to portray, not the illness, and the names of any drugs they’re “taking.” Embrace the role. In some SPAL cases, the SPs are so “sick,” they’re lying on the table when the students enter the examination room. “Students need to experience those things so when they see real patients like that, they don’t lose their cool and so they do all the procedures they need to do,” Sue says.
  • Give constructive feedback. At the end of each “exam,” the SPs complete a checklist on the students and give written feedback. “That’s what makes it a fun job – each student is different, and it’s challenging to make sure we’re meeting their individual learning needs,” Sue says.
  • Reap the benefits. Sue says she’s learned to give her own physician better information, and she enjoys interacting with other SPs and SPAL staff. But the biggest reward is interacting with aspiring care givers. “It’s very satisfying to work with students who come to you as medical providers who really want to do a good job,” Sue notes.
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