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May 19 2011

Conference Brings Together Professional "Patients" and Trainers

New York, N.Y.  (May 19, 2011) ─ They disrobe, they cough, they complain.  Sometimes they cry or curse.  Their goal is to help medical students learn bedside manners and the art of communicating with the people they treat.

Standardized patients or SPs – actors and others who are paid to portray sick people – are a crucial part of medical education today.  More than 140 “patients” and their teachers will gather at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway on Wednesday, May 25, to share their stories, perform humorous skits, and explore their role in shaping tomorrow’s doctors.
The day-long conference, “Inside the SP Studio,” is sponsored by the Institute for Clinical Competence at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM) at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT).  For the first time, a large-scale meeting will bring together patients and SP educators, said Anthony Errichetti, chief of virtual medicine at NYCOM and conference co-chair.  
Errichetti said a panel of standardized patients – including actors and non-actors – will discuss the challenges of evaluating medical students’ skills.
“It’s a very unique job,” said conference co-chair Laurie Schroeder, who trains standardized patients at St. Barnabas Hospital.   “People are often undressed, you’re wearing a medical gown… there are cameras involved.”
Terry Wanamaker, a standardized patient who works with NYCOM students, acknowledged that the response from people who find out about her job ranges from curiosity to laughter. “People usually say, ‘Oh my gosh, I saw a Seinfeld episode on that,’” said Wanamaker, referring to Cosmo Kramer’s brief, yet comical, stint as a standardized patient. 
Typical “encounters” – the sessions where medical students meet the “patients” – last about 15 minutes but can stretch to 40 minutes.  The sessions are usually videotaped and the standardized patients meet with students to give them feedback on everything from the way their lab coats look to the students’ speaking styles or ability to perform routine medical exams.
“The students are so appreciative of the experience, the interaction, and the feedback,” Wanamaker said.  “They’re really looking for guidance and help, and we are able to provide that for them.”
Standardized patients undergo specific training to learn how to assess students’ communications skills, debrief the students, and play their roles consistently.  In some cases, they portray a spouse or a police officer in an emergency room situation where the “patient” is a robotic manikin.
“I was really impressed with the whole training, how they really make sure that you feel comfortable and that you have a good understanding of what you’re there for,” said Christine Jordan, an actress who has worked as a standardized patient at NYCOM for two years.  In more than 200 encounters, Jordan has portrayed patients with acid reflux, psychological issues, diabetes, and leg pain among other ailments.
Jordan said dealing with students who are nervous about peering under gowns, clumsy with blood pressure cuffs, or confused about the checklist of questions to ask is all part of the work.
“I had one girl say to me:  ‘Do you smoke alcohol?’” Jordan recalled.  “Then we just kind of laughed together.”
The conference, which is free for standardized patients and SP educators, will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes a networking lunch.
NYCOM is committed to training osteopathic physicians for a lifetime of learning and practice, based upon the integration of evidence-based knowledge, critical thinking, and the tenets of osteopathic principles and practice. NYCOM provides a continuum of educational experiences to its students, extending through the clinical and post-graduate years of training.   
About NYIT
New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees in more than 90 fields of study, including architecture and design; arts and sciences; education; engineering and computing sciences; health professions; management; and osteopathic medicine. A non-profit independent, private institution of higher education, NYIT has more than 15,000 students attending campuses on Long Island and Manhattan, online, and at its global campuses. NYIT sponsors 11 NCAA Division II programs and one Division I team.
Led by President Edward Guiliano, NYIT is guided by its mission to provide career-oriented professional education, offer access to opportunity to all qualified students, and support applications-oriented research that benefits the larger world. To date, 85,000 graduates have received degrees from NYIT. For more information, visit
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