A patient asks, "You think this is cancer?”
And the doctor answers, “We're not sure. We won't know until the biopsy's done."
This patient just learned she may have breast cancer. But, the focus is not on how she reacts – it’s on how the student-doctor delivers the news.
UAMS doctor Sara Tariq and Mary Cantrell, the Director of the Center for Clinical Skills Education, developed a curriculum to teach medical students how to deliver bad news.
Dr. Tarig says, “The whole purpose of this curriculum is to get the students to feel the emotions and stress of delivering bad news."
Each student-doctor is graded on how well they handle three scenarios: telling a patient she has an abnormal mammogram, giving information to a patient who doesn't speak the same language, and a patient who is angry about not being able to see his regular doctor.
Bertina Lin, a second-year medical student, says it's uncomfortable.
"It's completely spontaneous. It's not something that you can practice, or something you can prepare for. I don't really know how I would have reacted if before I walked in. She put in a bunch of Visine tears into her eyes and started streaming."
When the medical students begin their role-play, Dr. Tariq can watch and listen in on the other side of a door with a two-way mirror. Each room has a speaker and camera, so teachers can also monitor them at stations, set up for each patient room. Once the role-play is over, Dr. Tariq and the students discuss the exercises, and what worked and what didn't.
"It's the only way that we know how to deal with real-life patients so when we're thrown into the hospital, we're not just floundering in the water."
Something else interesting to note about the patients used in those role-plays -- they're trained to give each student the same reaction, but also have to be ready to play off the students' reactions. Some of them are also professional actors.