Saturday, June 21, 2014

our standardized patient experience

I’m not letting myself watch The Fault in Our Stars- yet. Reading the book was such an emotional experience!!! It’s the unlikeliest love story. If I tried explaining it to you (“two kids with cancer…”) I’m never going to do it justice. So read it. And watch the movie!!!


Our lucky class of 2016 are the first class at Penn Dental to have SP (Standardized Patients) experiences. Perelman School of Medicine has an SP program and we hopped along on the Penn Med SP wagon. Over the last two weeks, we saw four Standardized Patients with varying medical issues & challenges such as dental anxiety, HIV status, and domestic violence.

I know that SP experiences are common in medical schools; they are almost unheard of in dental schools. So here’s how it works. Standardized Patients are given a scenario to play out with us future doctors. It’s essentially role-playing a dental visit. In the middle of the session, we can call “time-out” to essentially pause the patient and ask our facilitator/colleagues for advice and input. At the end, the Standardized Patient will give feedback and suggestions based on what he/she saw. It’s so cool because I felt like I was freezing time.

I was nervous “performing” in front of dental school colleagues because my empathy, my listening skills, my conversation abilities were on display- not dentistry. It’s like having an image consultant session. (Have you ever had anyone tell you something like “your leg shaking communicates a nervous energy?”) I learned some things I want to share.

crowd1Picture source

1. We can’t prepare for everything. Every patient is different. Even if we were to learn all there is to know about dental phobia, for example, each patient has their own unique experiences they bring to the clinic. In addition, they may choose to share certain parts of their lives and not the others. Be open-minded and take the time to learn your patients.

First week of clinic, I was so focused on getting my forms signed and getting things done. But I learned from my SP sessions that every minute I spent getting to know my patients was precious.

2. We can just be honest. I used my “time-outs'” to ask my dental classmates “What should I say? I don’t know how to respond.” Simple answer: tell them that! Instead of having all these thoughts floating in my head, it was better to say what I was thinking out loud. For example, I could say “I am not familiar with that condition, can you tell me more?” I could also admit, “I don’t know what to say. I hope I’m not offending you.”

How do you communicate effectively? How do you listen well? I’d love some pointers.
Are you going to watch TFIOS this weekend?


  1. Neat! I've been an SP in a few dental encounters, but as you say they are not very common. Nice to see the other side of it. Hope you had fun!

    1. The SP's were so good! They were great about picking up on subtle body language and giving really minute feedback. That's awesome you are a SP for (future) dentists.

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