APRIL 3, 2006 | No one knows the value of the Center for Clinical Skills Education at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) better than Betty Gene Mann.
As a standardized patient at the center for the past three years, Mann received in-depth training on a variety of medical conditions. The center uses the services of about 100 standardized patients — lay persons trained to simulate illnesses and medical conditions to help UAMS students practice their clinical skills in a realistic patient-care setting.
When Mann was called in to the center for an assignment last year, she initially hesitated. “It was a Saturday,” she said. ”They needed someone for senior medical students to practice their ultrasound technique on. At first I considered not going.”
She quickly changed her mind, however, and headed to UAMS to participate in the ultrasound training. After the exam, Mann was told that a suspicious mass was spotted behind her aorta. After a series of follow-up tests, it was determined that she had early-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “It was so early that it didn’t even show up in any other tests,” she said.
After six rounds of chemotherapy, Mann now has a clean bill of health. She calls her experience a true miracle and plans to come back to work as a standardized patient as soon as possible.
Although standardized patients aren’t commonly diagnosed with real illnesses, it does occasionally happen, said Mary Cantrell, director of the Center for Clinical Skills Education. She added that the more common outcome of serving as a standardized patient is the satisfaction of knowing you helped students in UAMS’ five colleges and graduate school prepare for the real world of health care careers.
On March 20, a new Center for Clinical Skills Education opened in the UAMS College of Public Health. Participating in the grand opening ceremony were Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D.; Sara Tariq, M.D., medical director for the center; Kate McCarthy, senior College of Medicine student; and Cantrell.
“About 14 years ago, we started formally educating our students on the importance of clinical care skills,” Wilson said. “We want our students to leave here with the ability to interact successfully with patients.”
The new center replaces the campus’ previous Clinical Skills Center that was located in the former student dormitory. The dorm was imploded Feb. 19 to make way for a hospital addition. The center features 14 fully equipped examination rooms for face-to-face interaction between students and standardized patients.
“Our facilities are second-to-none,” Cantrell said. “We have state-of-the-art digital equipment, highly trained standardized patients and students who are excited about learning in a real-world setting. UAMS has definitely set the bar for clinical skills education.”
Each room in the center is equipped with dual cameras and two-way audio response. Instructors can control the cameras in each exam room, videotape the exam and communicate with the students via microphone.
The observation room has 14 computer stations, each corresponding to an exam room, at which other students or instructors can monitor the exam and score the students on the clinical skills they exhibit. Standardized patients also score students on the exam.
As a result of their clinical skills training, all of the senior College of Medicine students recently passed a critical national exam on the first try, Wilson said. A passing score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 2 Clinical Skills Exam is required for licensure as a physician in the United States.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Wilson said. “The center truly serves our students, and their future patients, well.