Helping med students SHaPE up
The SMHS Simulation Center keeps third-year medical students on their toes through the SHaPE program.
Twenty percentage points.
That’s how much UND medical students’ average Clinical Skills Assessment (CSA) scores were dropping between the end of their first and third years back in 2015.
And Dr. Jon Allen was having none of it.
“The skills decline bothered me, and I felt we could do a much better job,” explained Allen, director of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) Simulation Center. “So, I put a proposal together, ran it by [Senior Associate Dean for Medicine & Research] Dr. Marc Basson, then took it to the appropriate committees, which approved the proposal.”
As Allen put it, third-year med students—who spend their year in the clinical setting away from the SMHS in North Dakota’s four largest cities—gain a lot of medical knowledge in their six clinical rotations before returning to Grand Forks. But even as their breadth of knowledge increases, their attention to detail on the history and physical examination can sometimes wane.
This waning is typical for students at med schools across the nation, resulting in poorer performance on not only the “H&P” but patient interviews conducted by students in their third year.
Using resources provided by North Dakota’s Healthcare Workforce Initiative, then, Allen and his team at the SMHS Simulation Center set out to address this decline by strategizing a way to help third-years maintain their skills, even at a distance from campus.
Thus was the School’s highly original Supplemental History and Physical Enhancement—or SHaPE—program born.
Managing the novel program is Stephanie Flyger. It’s her job to coordinate all third-year students’ supplemental H&P training in the context of their rotations (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, obstetrics/gynecology, and surgery).
Flyger does this by arranging practice sessions for students both on “real” standardized patients (who have been coached by the Simulation Center on how to act like a patient with certain health challenges) and on the School’s robotic “manikins.” These manikins are housed in the four mobile simulation trucks (see photo) the SMHS keeps on each of the School’s four campuses in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot.
“Also, it’s a best practice to have simulation in student’s third year,” said Flyger, referring to standard of educational practice around the country. “To maintain a high quality education we need both to train our students in H&P and give them simulation training. So, we developed a ‘distance’ simulation H&P program that was standardized across the state, which is where our mobile sim trucks come in.”
Once a session is arranged for a cohort, students meet with Flyger and their physician preceptors to practice their interview skills, physical examinations, and medical history-taking—often inside one of the four mobile sim units the School keeps on each of its campuses.
Students engage in these “extra” sessions six times in an academic year before returning to Grand Forks for their third-year CSA (also known as the Objective Structured Clinical Exam or OSCE).
And so far, both Allen and Flyger have been encouraged by the program’s results.
According to Flyger’s data, the average CSA score for UND third-years before SHaPE was implemented was 72.3 percent. After one year of SHaPE, however, third-year students’ average scores jumped to 79.5% in 2018—and were even higher in 2019.
That greater-than seven percentage point increase is what has the Simulation Center and School administration so excited.
But Flyger still wants more.
“Our goal is to bring those third-years back up to 90 percent or higher,” she said.
SHaPE at a distance
Of course, like everything else, COVID-19 upended Flyger’s and Allen’s program. But SHaPE continues, only in a “virtual” sort of way, allowing students to get a jump on their telemedicine skills, via the Zoom platform, which in any case may soon become a standard of medical practice, especially in rural settings.
“I was very impressed with how smoothly everything went—I was not expecting to get as much out of it as I did,” admitted third-year student Matthew Soderberg of his recent virtual SHaPE session for psychiatry. “The interviewing part of it is not that much different than an in-person visit. It’s essentially history gathering, searching for other issues, and addressing the patient’s primary concerns. I think it was a fantastic experience to help train us for telemedicine visits.” Even if the physical distance made the H&P more of a challenge, Soderberg said that it has not only trained him for the future of medicine—telehealth—but for the next global health emergency.
“While this may be affecting the education we normally receive by being on site, interacting with patients for these rotations, there certainly is a unique educational value to being a part of the pandemic,” he said. “It is valuable to see how the health care system responds to these extreme circumstances, especially when it comes to limited resources, and I like to think we’re better prepared to handle similar scenarios in the future if we’re called upon to do so.”
The future is now
But assuming in-person SHaPE sessions will return in the near future, Sim Center staff anticipate helping students boost their CSA scores even more.
“And we’re considering expanding this to fourth-year students as well,” said Flyger, explaining how students are always looking for more direct experience with an even greater number of specialties. “There are certain residencies students want to go into, like emergency medicine. And we now have a Department of Emergency Medicine, whose [Bismarck-based] chair Dr. Jon Solberg wants to work with us for an ER sim in fourth year.”
Allen too was looking forward and more than happy to credit everyone but himself for helping develop a program unlike most anything else in the country.
“Other schools do have programs for helping students improve their physical diagnostic skills, although I don’t know of any that do it in such a specific and standardized way,” he said. “And, it is all managed out of a single office—Stephanie’s—at the SMHS for the whole third-year class as they work in various institutions across the state. Pretty amazing.”