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Standardized Performance Assessment Laboratory (SPAL)

Student practicing on a patient in SPAL

The Standardized Performance Assessment Lab (SPAL) provides a realistic setting for DMU students to learn and practice their professionalism, communication, organization, clinical reasoning and examination skills without risk to themselves or their patients.

Standardized patients (SPs) are trained to simulate patients with physical conditions such as chest pain, sensory loss, joint restriction, cancer, chronic disease, muscle weakness and emotional or behavioral problems. During a SPAL practical session, students review a patient’s presenting information and complete a history and physical examination (no invasive exams or tests) as appropriate. Following the encounter the learners document their findings in writing or give an oral presentation to faculty who provide feedback regarding their interviewing/examination/presentation skills and the student/patient relationship. SPs also offer written or verbal feedback regarding a student’s interpersonal skills.

SPAL is used by the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) and Physician Assistant (PA) programs.  Students from all the DMU colleges have multiple SPAL experiences that include a wide variety of clinical presentations.

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DMU’s SPAL program began in 1996 and now includes:

  • 12 clinical examination rooms – each equipped with a digital audio/video camera, intercom system, one-way glass window for observation and two computers for faculty and SPs to complete evaluations.
  • Control room – where all 12 rooms are monitored and audio-video captured.
  • Rooms for post-encounter documentation and debriefing.
  • Video streaming – allows students to view and critique their own encounters online while on campus
  • More than 80 standardized patients
  • Over 100 developed cases with about 5,000 student/patient encounters a year

The SPAL experience

Students in SPAL

Though SPAL practical formats vary depending on the type and experience of the learners, a typical SPAL experience is as follows:

  1. Students arrive in professional dress and with appropriate diagnostic tools and receive instructions.
  2. Each student is assigned an exam room and then given time to review a patient’s presenting information and write any notes.
  3. When instructed the students have 20 minutes to enter their rooms, greet their patients and perform the tasks outlined on the presenting information. Tasks may include history taking, physical examination and patient education/counseling.
  4. Students then have 30 minutes to document their findings or give a five-minute oral presentation to a faculty member.
  5. At a later date the students convene to discuss the case(s) and view feedback and scores from SPs and faculty. Many students have reported that SPAL is the best learning tool they have experienced, giving them more confidence and making them much better prepared for actual patient encounters.

If you are interested in becoming a standardized patient, view current job openings.  If there are openings for standardized patients then complete an online application.  Typically this position is listed in late spring/early summer and sometimes late fall/early winter.  If you simply have questions about the program you may call 271-1556.

Faculty and staff