Teaching Medical Students About Disability: The Use of Standardized Patients.

20 Aug

If you haven’t heard about “standardized patients” before, they are an interesting (and important) part of medical training. Basically think of an actor (often literally an actor looking for some extra money) who portrays a patient with a given malady. He may or may not give all the information needed to the doctor in training. As in, “I’m coughing a lot lately” without saying “I smoke three packs a day”.

How can a doctor learn about the special needs of patients with disabilities? Especially those which may not be obvious, or those which make it difficult to obtain information from the patient? In Teaching Medical Students About Disability: The Use of Standardized Patients the authors consider programs which use standardized patients (SP’s) with disabilities and those portraying disabled subjects.

Standardized patients (SPs), now a mainstay of the undergraduate medical education experience, are beginning to play larger roles in helping students build competencies to better serve patients who have disabilities, in educating students about the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, and in testing students’ understanding of disability-related issues. In this article, the authors discuss several U.S. training programs that involve SPs who have disabilities or SPs who do not have disabilities but who portray patients who do. The authors review the goals of each program (e.g., to provide students with opportunities to gain experience with patients with disabilities), describe their commonalities (enhancing students’ interview skills) and differences (some programs are educational; some are evaluative), and summarize the evaluative data of each. The authors also explore the benefits and challenges of working with SPs with disabilities and of working with SPs without disabilities. Finally, they consider the practical issues (e.g., recruiting SPs) of developing and implementing such programs.

Honestly, I haven’t read the full paper. I’ve been putting off writing about this until I find the time, but that hasn’t happened and I find the subject too interesting to let it just fall by the wayside. I am encouraged to think that training programs include disability in their SP’s, and hope that is is more the rule than the exception.

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