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Med Students Hone Exam Skills in New Facility

April 18, 2007

Arthur Nead

After 15 years in the old clinical skills center on Tulane Avenue, the Tulane Standardized Patients Program begins training medical students this spring in a newly constructed, state-of-the-art teaching facility.


Delia Anderson talks with second-year medical student Edward Pankey in the new state-of-the-art teaching facility for the Training and Assessment of Professional Skills Program. Anderson is director of the program. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The standardized patients, who are specially trained actors, will move, along with a new high-tech mannequin named Harvey.

Occupying the entire 22nd floor of the 1555 Poydras St. building in downtown New Orleans, the new facility is the latest home of the Training and Assessment of Professional Skills Program, a key part of medical education at Tulane since 1989.

"One of the primary goals of our program is to teach medical students how to perform the basic range of physical examinations," says Delia Anderson, program director.

The training program uses "standardized patient teaching associates," role-players standing in for actual patients. Inexperienced medical students beginning to learn key exam procedures don't try them out on actual patients in real-life clinical settings.

The trained standardized patients teach the medical students fundamental exam procedures including inspections of the eyes, ears, nose and throat; heart and lungs; musculoskeletal system; and abdomen.

The center provides expert instruction on the invasive and sensitive female gynecological and male urological exams as well as neurological and psychiatric exams. In addition to the physical exam, the program provides students with valuable experience in dealing with the emotional side of these encounters -- how to calm agitated patients and deal with sensitive cultural issues.


Marlin Haindfield, left, who serves as a standardized patient, gets a checkup from Edward Pankey, medical student, as part of the program to teach students how to do examinations.

"We provide students with a non-threatening place to learn and apply just about any newly acquired skills," says Anderson, president of the Association of Standardized Patient Educators.

The standardized patients program pledges to provide the best and most believable scenarios for students, so that they can suspend disbelief and demonstrate their level of skill, says Anderson.

The medical school faculty and center's staff coach the standardized patients to realistically simulate patients suffering from a variety of illnesses. The custom-designed training center features class and meeting rooms, offices and an auditorium. The heart of the facility is a suite of 16 examination rooms.

During a typical training session, a group of 16 students cycles through the rooms at regular intervals, carrying out different exams. Each student makes entries on the room's computer station and video cameras record every session, making the students' performances digitally available for review and critique by the medical faculty.

In addition to the live standardized patients, the program also will have high-fidelity simulators. The current simulator, Harvey, a sophisticated programmable mannequin used for cardiovascular exam training, has flexible plastic skin and moving pulse points. He can be programmed to simulate a wide range of cardiovascular conditions, including characteristic motions and sounds.

The facility will be acquiring several additional training mannequins, according to Anderson. An important function of the teaching facility is providing assessments of each student's progress through a series of competency exams.

"We are both teaching and assessing all along the way," Anderson says. "And we're not just assessing what we teach, we're teaching the integration of all the skills they are learning as they move ahead. They are getting classroom knowledge, and it all comes together in this teaching setting."

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000