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Release: Immediate

UI College of Medicine to honor simulated patients' contributions to medical education

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa College of Medicine will honor community members who serve as volunteer or simulated patients for medical students at an appreciation luncheon Tuesday, April 28, beginning at 11:45 a.m. in the Eckstein Medical Research Building atrium.

A unique partnership between the college, medical students and the community, the simulated patient and volunteer patient programs give medical students practical experience and guidance, says Sandra Schuldt, coordinator of the programs. "These programs are an invaluable part of the college's teaching mission. They help medical students develop effective communication skills that aid in diagnosis and make patients more comfortable in clinical situations," she says.

The college's curriculum provides student contact with simulated and volunteer patients beginning in the students' first semester and continuing through the second year of medical school. The programs help prepare the students for clinical clerkships that are part of their third and fourth years of study.

Community participants in the Teaching Associate Simulated Patient (TASP) program are compensated for their time and assistance. Simulated patients help students gain confidence and competency in taking medical histories, diagnosing chief complaints and performing physical examinations. They also model and teach certain sensitive physical exams, such as the female pelvic/breast exam and the male genital/rectal exam. Typically, four medical students work with two simulated patients -- one to guide students through the exam and one to be the "patient."

TASP participants represent a cross-section of backgrounds and age groups. This year, 60 simulated patients provided approximately 542 hours of instruction for first-year medical students and 1,002 hours for second-year students.

The college's Volunteer Patient Program pairs local retirees with medical students. Implemented last year, the program recruits many of its participants through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a local service that matches senior citizens with volunteer activities that fit their interests and backgrounds.

This year the RSVP has provided 40 volunteers who will donate between 200 and 240 hours of service to second-year medical students. The volunteers provide opportunities for students to conduct histories and physical exams and for faculty mentors to demonstrate and critique these skills.

"Working with medical students has proven to be a beneficial experience for both the students and our volunteers," says Joan Cook, Iowa City coordinator for the RSVP. "Senior volunteers give students the chance to work with the kinds of people that they may see in their own practices. They provide real-life experience in gerontology that's not always available in textbooks."

"The volunteer and simulated patients do a wonderful job of creating a realistic situation," adds Heidi Stoltenberg, a second-year medical student. "The patients are told beforehand what we should be asking and doing. After the session, we get immediate feedback from the patients, not only on the exam and history-taking, but also on our interpersonal and non-verbal communication skills. You can't really replicate the kind of input they provide. It's a good way to become more comfortable and experienced in our roles as physicians."