Education on-demand: the development of a simulator-based medical education service

James A Gordon, John Pawlowski
Academic Medicine 2002, 77 (7): 751-2

OBJECTIVES: Clinical medical education depends on the availability of instructive patient encounters, or "good teaching cases." While all medical students hope to see enough patients of sufficient scope and variety, exposure to good teaching cases has been traditionally limited by time and chance. Students may graduate from medical school without having seen a number of important cases, each of which may represent a knowledge gap they will carry forward into internship and future patient care. Recently, however, the advent of high-fidelity patient simulators has enabled instructors to recreate realistic patient scenarios in a standardized fashion. Using the simulator, we wanted to create a medical education service-like any other clinical teaching service, but designed exclusively to help students fill in the gaps in their own education, on demand. We hoped to mitigate the inherent variability of standard clinical teaching, and to augment areas of deficiency.

DESCRIPTION: Using a Human Patient Simulator(TM) (Medical Education Technologies, Inc.), which is equipped with a transmitted voice and reactive eyes, chest movements and breath sounds, heart tones and palpable pulses, a multidisciplinary group of physicians and educators designed a simulator-based medical education service. The premise was that students should have the ability to realistically practice and discuss medicine with a physician-mentor at any time they wish, with full access to simulator-enabled cardiac monitoring, diagnostic resources, pharmacologic agents, and invasive procedures. Students were informed of the program by e-mail and by course instructors. A dedicated pager was established for the on-call physician-educator, and the number disseminated to students. Physician-educators included faculty members scheduled for dedicated teaching time, and senior residents participating in a medical education elective. On-call physicians were responsible for fielding educational requests, developing appropriate scenarios, and scheduling instructional time. Upon arriving at the skills lab for their appointments, students would proceed to interview, evaluate, and treat the mannequin-simulator as if it were a real patient, using the instructor for assistance as needed. All students participated in an educational debriefing after each session. Instructors could also request formal observation and feedback on their teaching style, in collaboration with an existing faculty development program.

DISCUSSION: Students enjoy the opportunity to practice medicine on-demand with dedicated clinical mentoring by a practicing physician. Course directors are interested in scheduling simulator time to help bring to life tutorial-based teaching cases and other course material for their students. By offering a medical education elective for residents, we have bolstered the pool of available instructors, provided a valuable learning experience for residents as teachers, and fostered additional opportunities for collaboration between the medical school and clinical training sites. Customized, realistic clinical correlates are now readily available for students and teachers, allowing reliable access to "the good teaching case."

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