The 1,000th volunteer patient session for the Southern Medical Program (SMP) recently occurred without much fanfare. Not because it wasn’t a significant milestone, but rather it was somewhat lost in the now steady state of patient programs underway during the academic year.
Diane Oorebeek, Standardized Patient and Volunteer Patient Recruiter and Trainer, is the force behind the SMP Patient Programs. Since joining the SMP in 2011, Oorebeek has built the Patient Programs from the ground up engaging more than 300 community members from across the Okanagan Valley.
The Patient Programs are crucial to the SMP’s operations. During the past three years, over 200 volunteer patients have partaken in clinical skills sessions. Under the guidance of a physician preceptor, students learn how to do basic clinical exams, take a medical history, and practice their communication skills – all within a safe learning environment. Each session is closely tied with the MD curriculum’s lecture material, thus requiring volunteers from the young to the elderly to the perfectly healthy to those suffering with chronic disease.
“We’ve had a really positive response from the community,” says Oorebeek. “Our volunteers are excited about helping to train future physicians while at the same time learning more about medicine.”
Oorebeek acknowledges there can be challenges in recruiting volunteers suffering from chronic diseases. Some of the volunteers spend a lot of their time in medical appointments already and it may be difficult for them to participate; however, they recognize the value of their involvement as it often provides a chance to help raise awareness.
The Standardized Patient Program relies heavily on the local acting community to assist with patient portrayals for student examinations and communication skills sessions. To date, 81 standardized patients have portrayed 266 different roles. The complexity of each patient’s background can vary considerably and training can be fairly intensive. The patient actors must be able to fully grasp their role and deliver a consistent patient portrayal for examination and teaching purposes.
It’s the diversity of patient scenarios that keeps Oorebeek constantly on the lookout for potential recruits. “I never felt like such an opportunist in my life,” says Oorebeek. “I find myself constantly looking at people in the grocery store or out in the community to see if they might be a good fit for one of our patient cases.”
Lastly, Oorebeek runs the Clinical Teaching Associate program comprised of women educators who teach breast and pelvic exams. The role of the clinical teaching associate is complex with the dual responsibility of both educator and patient. The training is also rigorous as they need to be able to guide students through the learning process and provide accurate and timely feedback on communication skills, body language, and technique.
As the SMP has developed over the past four years, the number of sessions and scope of patient cases has increased significantly. Oorebeek has amassed a tremendous network of contacts with community organizations, local physicians, and high schools to assist in the ongoing recruitment for these programs. She admits it can be a balancing act in fulfilling the educational needs of the program while keeping a large group of people adequately engaged over the course of the academic year. Last minute cancellations can even require Oorebeek to recruit a staff member or jump in herself to participate, but all is handled in stride.
“The people I get to work with are inspiring, amazing, and talented individuals,” adds Oorebeek. “I feel quite honored to meet these people, learn a lot of things in the process, and truly value the quality and variety of interactions.”