Students in the School of Podiatric Medicine will begin using simulation spaces that mimic professional offices in order to improve the way students treat patients in the future.
The school, which is in Chinatown, added 12 examination rooms for more than $1.15 million where hired actors will play the part of patients. Students will be trained beginning January 2018 through Objective Structured Clinical Examinations, a series of exams testing students’ clinical skills like the ability to diagnose and properly interact with patients through standardized tests.
Dr. Khurram Khan, a professor in the department of podiatric medicine who will oversee courses using the simulation rooms, said the OSCE tests and simulation rooms will allow students to better interact with patients.
“Doctors weren’t really empathetic to patients,” Khan said. “They didn’t know how to communicate with patients. They were kind of turning out like robots. So medical schools started this OSCE program where they teach students how…to talk to patients one-on-one and how to break bad news to patients.”
The simulation rooms have cameras and one-way mirrors for instructors to monitor students and their behavior while they examine patients.
Typical exam procedures include monitoring vital signs, checking for nerve loss and asking the right questions to make the proper diagnoses.
“The goal of this kind of instruction is to provide students with instruction that bridges the gap between classroom and professional practice,” Khan said. “This way students can practice on standardized patients in a controlled environment…allowing them to develop their skills in the art of interviewing patients.”
Raquel Perez, a clinical instructor, trains the actors who are hired from outside the university. She said the use of medical actors in this new space will enhance the curriculum.
“In terms of strict medical skills, [simulations] are usually done with mannequins, but when you need to know if something is painful, and a patient is hesitant to express it, our standardized patients are able to portray what real patients might do in a situation,” she said.
Standardized patients are trained in basic medical diagnostics and are also randomly given traits like trust issues or preconceived notions that affect whether a patient is willing to comply with medical instruction. This technique presents challenges for students to attempt to overcome, she added.
Perez said the standardized patient program is continuously being refined because it can be challenging to standardize medical scenarios.
She said training often requires acting out the medical situations before the scenarios are used in student training so she can change or enhance the actor’s portrayal of a patient.
“So a lot of it is experiential,” Perez added.
Two courses — Fundamentals of Podiatric I and II — will incorporate the new rooms, but the exam rooms could be used in other courses, Khan said. Eventually, students will be able to expand on what they learn in the exam rooms, like practicing wound-care skills.
“There is no limit as to where we can go in the future,” Khan added.
The rooms can also be used by students to discuss and practice proper techniques and other surgical procedures, Khan added.
Before the exam rooms were built, students used examinations rooms at the Foot and Ankle Institute, which is the largest fully functioning podiatry office in the Philadelphia area, and worked with faculty from the School of Podiatry.
But this was ineffective because professors had to be in these professional examination rooms to supervise the student simulations. This took space away from actual patients seeking treatment at the institute and made the simulation less realistic.
Khan said he hopes the room will function as an opportunity to boost students’ confidence.
“Some students are really outgoing, and they can talk to anyone, but some are a little bit shy,” he added. “So this kind of helps us in terms of working with the students who might need more time learning how to ask patients sensitive questions.”
Students will begin using the simulation rooms when the podiatry students are back from their residencies.