**We are pleased to share a guest post from Ms. Nita Skillman, Director of the Client and Standardized Patient Program for Elon’s School of Health Sciences.**
Elon University Physical Therapy students have their first patient encounter just a few months into their education. The Client and Standardized Patient Program (CSPP) provides on average eight encounters the first year, thirty the 2nd year and fifty the 3rd year. These encounters ensure students are given the opportunity to test their examination skills with patients, grow critical thinking skills, and develop individualized treatments plans even before their first clinical rotation.
The very first encounter is focused on enhancing communication skills and taking a patient history. After this encounter, the patient and faculty offer each student personal feedback on their communication style and effectiveness. This provides a richer experience to the student and adds a sense of realism that practicing with their peer might not. This encounter is also recorded to allow the student an opportunity to watch their video and self-reflect.
Just recently our first-year students held a Baby Lab in their DPT 610 Human Motor Development class. This lab consisted of eight typically developing children ranging in age from birth to one year. During the lab, students performed assessments looking at each baby’s motor development. All while observing primitive reflexes, infant mobility, and functional play. Each baby was also paired with a pediatric therapist from the community allowing the student to have access to an expect in that area. For the same course in July, the students will participate in a Big Kid Lab that will include ages ranging from one to seven. During that lab, they will assess gross motor skills such as higher-level locomotion, ball skills, and higher-level balance.
In the second year, PT students worked in groups of four to treat patients with a neurological disorder in their DPT 703 Clinical Seminar IV class. During this class, the students worked with their patient over five visits. The first visit included testing and goal planning followed by four treatment days. This exposure to patient care not only gave our students the chance to see how neurological disorders impact a patient’s everyday life, but also gave our students an opportunity to bring to life classroom lectures.
Our third-year students gained valuable patient exposure during their DPT 804 Selectives class. Selectives offer our students the opportunity to choose which area they wish to gain more practice and instructional time in prior to their final six-month clinical rotation. Currently the offerings include pediatric, muscle skeletal, neurological, independent study, research and global studies. The muscle skeletal group of students logged approximately 45 patient treatment hours within their six-week instruction. During this class, faculty gave one-on-one assistance to students with their patients. The students worked on things such as treatments to help patients return to running, community ambulation and evaluations of muscle injuries such as strains and pains. Students enjoy not only the one-on-one instructional time, but also valued the additional hands-on experiences with the patients.
The CSPP is often asked where we get our patients from, and what type of patient will a student see. Our patients are local members of the community that want to partner with Elon to ensure our students get as much patient exposure as possible. Some of our patients participate in classroom discussions, some receive individualized treatments, and others work with our students to simply give them hands-on knowledge to how their illness has affected their body. Our students are exposed to patients with a wide range of diagnoses including but not limited to stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, orthopedic complications, amputations, and multiple sclerosis. The CSPP not only encompasses patients that have very specific diagnoses but also includes trained Standardized Patients (SPs). SPs portray a medical diagnosis and allow students to work through treatment options without risking harm to vulnerable populations. SPs are also well versed in giving patient centered feedback to students. The feedback conversation is designed to allow students to hear directly from a patient’s perspective about the encounter and work alongside of the SP to improve upon the experience.
The Client and Standardized Patient Program is focused on providing every student an opportunity to work with patients, reflect on their encounters, receive feedback, and gain valuable firsthand experience. It is our goal that all students will be able to look back on their classroom patient encounters and take those lessons into their clinical practice.