In an increasingly digital world, the Standardized Patient Program at West Virginia University provides students with an understanding of something technology can’t replicate – the human experience.
The program is one of many experiential learning opportunities offered by the WVU Health Sciences David and Jo Ann Shaw Center for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety (STEPS). A state-of-the-art simulation center, STEPS provides students from all five health sciences schools – Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health – and WVU Medicine professionals with a safe setting to improve their skills before encountering patients in everyday and critical care situations.
Standardized Patients are members of the community who role play a realistic clinical situation to help students learn and evaluate clinical skills. Unlike a manikin, the “patient” can explain how they experienced the clinical encounter with the student, letting the student know how they felt and describing how the student's behavior affected them as the patient.
Portraying a wide range of patients or patient caregivers, the actors use case information or scripts to provide students with an opportunity to practice communication, empathy, bedside manner and other important skills utilized during patient interactions in the field.
“Healthcare simulation is so important in preparing students for their practice as a medical professional,” Ryan Wamsley, a Standardized Patient educator at STEPS, explained. “Using Standardized Patients allows students to have a more ‘real life’ experience of seeing a patient. Instead of roleplaying with a peer, students interact with someone who fits an appropriate demographic, and they use investigative skills to get to the root of the patient’s concerns.”
Cases presented to students mirror real-world health concerns and are developed by teaching and clinical faculty in the various health schools and programs to match competencies that students need to demonstrate prior to graduation. Scenarios vary and include basic medication consultations, psychological evaluations, counseling, delivery of bad news and working with a patient with drug dependence.
“Patients who trust and build a strong relationship with their healthcare provider are much more likely to adhere to an intervention plan that benefits their overall health.” Wamsley said. “The communication that is necessary to build that relationship is what we teach with the use of Standardized Patients. A patient should feel safe and cared for, and that takes practice.”
"Throughout our schooling, we are taught information about medications and how to communicate our knowledge to patients but having the chance to work with Standardized Patients actually allows us to practice,” Clara Lukomski, a student in the Doctor of Pharmacy program, said. “We can put faces and lives to the concepts we learn, which is such an important reminder that at the end of the day we are rooted in patient care and doing all we can for real patients.”
In addition to communication and diagnostic skills, students learn how to conduct sensitive physical examinations in a safe, comfortable, thorough and respectful patient‐centered manner with the help of Gynecological Teaching Associates, Male Urological Teaching Associates and Standardized Physical Exam Teaching Associates. This unique learning experience involves highly trained individuals serving as the instructor while students practice their skills on them.
Molly White learned about the opportunity to serve as a Standardized Patient through a theater group on social media. Initially drawn to the program for its flexibility, she has also found it be a rewarding experience.
“I think it’s very important for students to practice before going out in the real world,” White said. “Practicing with a stranger is different than practicing with their peers. Through training, I’m able to provide constructive comments after our encounter so students can learn.”
“Students who come to STEPS are actively participating in their learning,” Wamsley said. “The Standardized Patients provide a valuable opportunity for students to practice interacting with a real, feeling person with a history and background that inform their experience in healthcare.
“Patients who see practiced and prepared medical professionals will feel safer and will be more confident in the care they are receiving, and the Standardized Patient Program makes a difference in our students’ education with each encounter.”
Photo: School of Pharmacy student Kaitlyn Vilain consults a Standardized Patient on a self-injectable medication in the West Virginia University Health Sciences David and Jo Ann Shaw Center for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety (STEPS). (WVU Photo/Tyler Mertins)
CONTACT: Jessica Wilmoth
Senior Communications Specialist
WVU Health Sciences