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Standardized Patients & Hybrid Simulation

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Our Standardized Patient (SP) Services

iCELS-standardized-patient-quick-stats.jpgUMass Chan Medical School iCELS Standardized Patient Program started in 1982 under the leadership of renowned medical education pioneer Dr. Paula L. Stillman, M.D.. Today, UMass Chan has one of the longest running SP programs in the United States, serving multiple programs in the New England region.

Standardized patients are everyday people who are trained to consistently simulate medical conditions in a medically accurate and emotionally authentic way, to support your learners' education goals. With more than 100 standardized patients, the program represents a microcosm of today's patient population, and is able to provide simulation of patients ranging from adolescents to active senior citizens, at your education sessions.

Our SPs undergo hours of foundational training to acquire core skills as an SP, before progressing into specific case training to effectively act as teachers and evaluators of your medical students, nursing students, nurse practitioner candidates, physician assistant candidates, therapists, residents, researchers, practicing clinicians and more.

How Does an SP Session Work?


STEP 1: Gather Information
Let us know about the learning objectives, type and number of learners, target dates, and all relevant aspects of your education session.

STEP 2: Write Case Scenarios
We will support you with case templates and case samples, as well as schedule and setup recommendations to achieve optimal outcomes.

STEP 3: Case Training, Finalizing Details
SPs are selected from a pool already trained in foundational skills (or are specifically recruited from the local community for your project), scheduled for assignment, and trained based on the finalized case scenarios you provide. As this training also serves as a test run of the actual encounter, it can be very effective in spotting any information gaps that need to be finalized or details that need to be standardized to deliver a medically accurate and emotionally authentic education session to your learners.

STEP 4: Confirming Learners' Attendance
At this point, your learners' schedules should be finalized and all logistical details conveyed for smooth-running on the actual day of the simulation event.

STEP 5: Simulation and Debrief with the Learners
Education event takes place - whether online or onsite, at your venue or ours, with or without recording, scoring and post-encounter feedback from the SPs - as planned. We strongly recommend and support the use of debriefing as an essential component of learning through simulation. It involves learner self-reflection as well as feedback from the SPs about the learners' performance, both facilitated to promote positive and desirable development in the learners.

How Do SPs Support the Education Goal You've Outlined?


Example of an education event involving a circuit of 4 scenarios: Learner 1 sees SP 1, followed by SP 2, SP 3 and SP 4 at this circuit. Each SP presents a different case scenario for the learner to practice, get assessed, and receive feedback on. Meanwhile, SP 1 sees Learner 1, followed by Learner 2, Learner 3 and Learner 4.

Our Standardized Patients can help meet your education goals by:

    • Mastering case scenario as provided by your faculty. All SPs who are portraying the same case are trained together for calibration supported by our proprietary reference system which includes the use of a Case Cornerstone and Memory Tools. This helps us deliver detailed scenarios with medical accuracy.

    • Portraying patient affect - including replicating the manifestations of conditions, emotions and communication challenges - with emotional authenticity to engage the learners. At an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) circuit, the SP would do this for one learner after another, with breaks in between.

    • Assessing focused physical examinations (PEs) carried out by the learner for accuracy of maneuver, patient comfort and dignity during the encounter.

      We also have a specialized team of SPs who are certified Physical Examination Teaching Associates (PETA) a.k.a. PE Instructors to help learners master full body physical exams involving ~200+ checkpoints, as well as highly experienced Gynecological / Genitourinary Teaching Associates (GTA, GUTA, MUTA) to help learners master the finepoints in conducting breast, pelvic, genitourinary and digital rectal exams with great care, accuracy and sensitivity towards the patients' needs, ahead of their encounter with actual patients.

    • Scoring and documenting learners' performance according to established scales which may include, but are not limited to, the Master Interview Rating Scale (MIRS). MIRS is a published and validated instrument that rates >20 key aspects of a learner's communication skills using a Likert Scale. Learners may be rated for their non-verbal facilitative behavior, verbalized empathy, pacing, transitions from one subject to another, use of jargons, questioning techniques, and more. The SPs are also familiar with documenting the learners' performance on your preferred platform, online or physical forms, or CAE LearningSpace where available.

    • Providing feedback or debrief in accordance with established methods. This include the use of self reflections, as well as individualized feedback starting with positives observations, adding suggestions for improvement, and closing with a summary that includes positive encouragements. SPs are also trained to quote specific examples of behaviors so learners can take part in a deliberate practice. Our aim is to provide a learner-centric experience to support your education goals.

How are SPs Prepared for These Roles?


In order to maintain a high standard of educational excellence, SPs at iCELS undergo a series of foundational training as well as event/case-specific training before they see your learners at an encounter. Over time, an SP would attend a series of core competency development training sessions to refine their skills. Experienced SPs would further undergo instructor certification programs so that they can advance on specialized skills to support faculties on the more complex educational needs.

At all times, SPs could be observed and their performance documented as part of an ongoing Quality Assurance (QA) process at iCELS. Video recording of simulations at iCELS facility allows our faculty, staff, trainers and SPs to review past work and assess all aspects of the encounters for improvement.

Once a year, SPs would participate in the Performance Appraisal, during which each of the ~100 SP receives protected time to review their core competencies and continuous development with the iCELS leadership team. This is yet another component of the iCELS focus on continuous quality improvement towards excellence.

We encourage your faculty and learners to provide feedback on what went well and any areas for improvement that our SPs should know about too!

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SPs Session Formats

In simulated encounters with Standardized Patients, learners are provided the opportunity to practice skills in a supportive setting. The length and complexity of an encounter varies depending on the level of the learner and the learning objectives of the session.

The purpose and objectives of your education session can range from pure formative education to implementation of summative evaluation instruments for the assessment of communication and clinical competence. Standardized patients frequently team up with clinical faculty in high and low stakes examinations, small group teaching sessions, and one-on-one specialized clinical electives to assist learners with identified weaknesses in clinical skills. 

These sessions can be held at your venue, or ours. iCELS occupies a 24,000 sq ft space at UMass Medical School Campus Albert Sherman Center (ASC). 20 patient exam rooms, complete with adjustable exam beds and fitted with working otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, blood pressure monitors as well as sanitizers and essential clinical supplies, are ready to immerse your learners in an authentic learning experience - just like at a real world setting, only more supportive, and completely reversible. All 20 exam rooms come with cameras and microphones to video-record the sessions on CAE LearningSpace for your review after the simulations.

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Pioneering History

The UMass Chan Medical School iCELS Standardized Patient Program was established in 1982 as one of the earliest SP programs around. The program continues to cross many milestones in its size, strength, influence and experience.

Today, the utilization of standardized patients as an evaluative and instructional tool has become an integral and mandatory component in all four years of the medical school curriculum – not only at UMass Medical School but at medical schools across Massachusetts. Many SPs who had started with the program in its earlier years remain a source of experience and perspectives to our ongoing approach towards excellence.

Find out about a remarkable pioneering history that took place right here at the UMass Medical School SP program.

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Successful Outcomes

We greatly value feedback from clients - and there have many wonderful ones! In respect of confidentiality, clients' names and organizations are omitted:

"As always, the SPs were well-prepared and each of them presented a compelling, highly believable story that helped prepare our students gain comfort and competence in screening their future patients for domestic violence and elder abuse. Once again, the organization, timing and implementation of this exercise, run in 15 rooms, three separate times, and for over 200 learners were absolutely flawless. We are all so fortunate to be the beneficiaries of this excellent educational resource!" - From a Worcester medical school faculty lead

"The faculty’s feedback on all five professional SPs portraying an adolescent was that they were “excellent” and "wonderful".  Another home run for the SP program!" - From a Worcester medical school faculty lead

"An abstract I submitted following the previous three years of data collection associated with our OSCEs was accepted. I will be presenting the related poster at the next Association of Standardized Patient Educators (ASPE) conference. Thank you to you and your entire staff for their contributions." - From a Lowell, MA physical therapy program

"Our students had a wonderful experience this year. Thank you!" - From a Boston physician assistant program

"All the actors were wonderful, timely, and just lovely to work with!" - From a Boston medical school's interprofessionalism course faculty

"The students found the experience incredibly beneficial and we have received much positive feedback" - From a Boston social work program

"The actors you arranged for the recording were FANTASTIC." - From a Boston Continuing Medical Education provider, about an educational video about opioids misuse

"The students appreciated the great learning experience. Thanks again  for coordinating this opportunity." - From a Springfield, MA midwifery gynecology teaching associate session

"Thanks for a well-organized day. All of you are so welcoming! The OSCEs are very valuable for our students and for our review of our curriculum!" - From a New Hampshire nurse practitioner program's assessment session held at iCELS venue

"The SP and the speakers were great together. We're excited for the rest of the series." - From a Continuing Medical Education provider, regarding an SP simulation session held as part of a symposium in Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Dearborn, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MIN; New York, NY; and Rosemont, IL

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Meet Our Standardized Patients

A community of ~100 trained and experienced SPs are available for simulation sessions held onsite and online, for UMass Chan as well as many other organizations like yours, to provide an immersive experience to all stages of learners.

Recognizing the importance of serving today's population, and driven by a heart for public health, iCELS is a strong supporter of a diverse and inclusive learning experience. In this respect, we constantly strive to have all genders, ages and races represented in our SP community.

You may find it a welcoming fact too, that many of our SPs are actively engaged in our internal Town Hall Meetings and Working Groups for Quality Improvement, as well as a feedback-anytime process that is designed to gather the voices and values that are truly present in the population around us today. Our aim is to build an SP community that is engaged, informed, and ready to support your education session.

Come "Meet" the SPs here

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