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Students at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine benefit from a long tradition of teaching, learning, practicing and demonstrating patient-centered clinical and communication skills.  Since the mid-1960s through today, dedicated simulated patients (SPs) work closely with our students, partnering with them to offer individualized, guided practice in the skills needed in today's changing healthcare settings.

Just weeks after arriving at CCOM, students collaborate with the SPs under the expert supervision and direction of course and clerkship directors, to experience the patient interview and the physical exam.   Our curriculum is integrated, meaning that for many students, they may move from an anatomy course studying the heart, to a physical exam session to practice a cardiac exam, and then days later interview an SP portraying a patient experiencing chest pain.

As students progress through their training, they work with increasingly more complex patients and increasingly more complex clinical scenarios.  At every level, students receive feedback from the SPs, trained to observe students’ communication and clinical skills, from peers, practicing delivering and receiving constructive feedback, and clinician-facilitators responsible for guiding the development of clinical reasoning and problem-solving skills.

At various intervals throughout the program, students readiness to move forward in their training by participating in tests that are referred to as Objective Structured Clinical Evaluations (OSCEs).  Here, the SPs are involved by portraying patient scenarios in a standardized manner, and rating student behaviors with checklists specially created for this purpose.

Our students consistently report how much they appreciate working with SPs.  Students can practice important skills in a safe, supportive environment, and continue to practice until they master the skills and feel confident in their abilities.  These working relationships mirror the future relationships we hope that all of our students will develop with their future patients and their families!