Meducate Opportunity Banner 1

The Associated Clinical Educators Role In Providing Feedback To Student Clinicians

 Associated Clinical Educators Providing Feedback To Student Clinicians

Last week saw us working online with our partners at Wolverhampton and Chester University. Although the role of the ACE is to work predominantly with helping the student to develop their physical skills with systems examinations, we also spent a lot of the time teaching them how to take an effective history.

Alfred Korzybski the developer of General Semantics once said:

“The meaning of communication is the response you get”.

When you are a medical professional sitting with an actual patient, you won’t be in the fortunate position of receiving feedback from them. They just won’t tell you.

They can’t.

They don’t really know what you are doing and you wouldn’t expect them too!

Working with an ACE or simulated patient changes all of that.

When ACEs work with students, their key role in the interaction is to provide quality feedback to the student clinician on their communication and the systems exam that they are performing.

Everyone employed by Meducate Academy are experienced actors and can therefore present powerful examples of a patient with a variety of problems and pathologies. Whether it be a mental health scenario, a difficult or challenging patient, an angry patient, those presenting with physical problems or working with colleagues and relatives of a patient. We have done them all!

This is all very useful as it creates a ‘reality’ for the student to work with, but it is not the complete story.

Role-play and simulation without high-quality feedback is just acting, and that’s not our aim here at Meducate Academy.

An ACE is an important and vital resource for the student, and our ability to recreate a scenario as a simulated patient providing feedback is of critical importance to the student and their assessors.

The feedback we offer allows the student time to reflect on their performance without the worry of making a ‘mistake’. That the environment is safe and that they can stop the scenario at any time in order to make any adjustments to their communication style.

You can’t do this with an actual patient!

Providing feedback in a nonjudgmental way gives the student an opportunity to improve without the pressure of having to get it right every time.

Feedback when given is always specific and detailed where necessary. We never say:

“Oh. That was Good!”

Without qualifying the statement to the student with detail as to why it was good and how it made the patient feel at the time they said it. Feedback should be evident and observable.

For example, the ACE would explain how the patient felt when the student failed to make eye contact when delivering bad news. There should be no ambiguity in your feedback, and clarity is vital:

“When you auscultated my chest and asked me to take deep breaths, you lifted the stethoscope off my chest before I completed a full breath cycle.”

This is much better than: “Keep the stethoscope on a little longer.”

The timing of the feedback is also important. We always wait until the end of the history and/or examination before giving feedback. This is normal unless the assessor/staff member asks for it earlier.

In some cases (mainly physical examinations) the ACE may stop the interaction if a procedure is performed roughly, or if the ACE is in danger of getting injured.

When we give feedback to more than one participant in a simulation, we keep it as succinct as possible and we never judge. An ACE will never compare one students’ performance against another. We take each person on their own merits.

When giving feedback, we do it in the third person as the patient. Explaining how the patient felt from their perspective is vital, and when we give feedback, we always ensure that we only make two or three points. We never overwhelm the student with a wealth of information, only enough to develop their skill set.

An ACE never gives feedback on the medical content of the simulation unless they have been specifically trained by a clinician. We always remind ourselves that we are lay educators and not clinicians.

If a student becomes defensive about feedback, we do not engage in arguing the point. Speak calmly and logically. A good structure therefore is vital. We are never too negative in our feedback and if the support of the facilitator is required, the ACE will get them involved.

If a student seems confused by the feedback, we take a few moments to reflect on what has been said and then recalibrate our communication style to suit the student. Everyone is different, and an ACE always endeavours to be a master communicator.

If a member of staff contradicts the ACE, we always wait till the session is over to discuss that difference in perspective. We would never discuss issues in front of the students. This may be an opportunity to learn something new and improve our skillsets.

It is often the case in our multicultural society that an ACE may not understand the student because of an accent, dialect or even the volume. We are always respectful, and will explain to the student that they sometimes have to work on this aspect of their communication in order to ensure they are understood and that their interaction has a high degree of clarity. Lack of clarity is always pointed out sensitively.

Sometimes the ACE may notice that the accepted dress code is not being adhered too. It is important that we highlight this in our feedback to the staff. Personal matters such as bad breath, body odour and unkempt appearance should be addressed. We don’t mention this directly to the student, but through the facilitator.

We always expect our ACEs and simulated patients to also develop their communication skills. We regularly assess them in this ability. Being an actor does not mean that you can be a role-player. The ability to deliver feedback effectively to the student is what is expected.

Let’s ensure that the standards of the ACE are as high as that of the clinicians.

We are currently producing a workbook for the ACEs and this will serve as a useful aide-mémoire for those who take on this very demanding but rewarding role.

Interview With James Ennis, Clinical Director (PA Program) At Chester University

Image of Bob ACE working with a group of physician associate students at a recent training course
Bob working as an ACE with a group of PA students at a recent training course giving feedback to students is a vital part of the ACEs role.

One of the greatest innovations the computer age has brought us is the opportunity for anyone to set up a podcast. Podcasts are great to watch or listen to when you are on the move and allow you to get information quickly from a variety of sources. We at Meducate have embraced that technology and are now producing a series of podcasts on Medical Roleplay and Associate Clinical Education (ACE). We will be talking to clinicians and simulated patients and, in some cases students, about their experience of working with us.

Image of Clinical Director (PA Program) at Chester University
James Ennis Course Director University Of Chester

Last week I interviewed James Ennis, Clinical Director of the Physician Associate Program at Chester University, who I have had a working relationship with for over 10 years.

You can listen to the podcast here, but I thought it would be good to give a very abbreviated version as a blog post for those who don’t have the time to listen.

BOB: Welcome to the Podcast, James.  First of all, thanks for coming on and agreeing to do this. I know you are very busy dealing with a multitude of challenges at the moment, but I’d like to get your view on what it’s like to work with medical role players and ACEs in this ever changing environment.

JAMES:  Thanks, Bob. It’s a pleasure to talk to you about this subject and get it out to a wider audience. As you know I’ve been working with Associate Clinical Educators and role players for the best part of 10 years and we’ve always had them within our curriculum both at Birmingham University and now at Chester. I think it’s an important aspect to medical education, and the feedback we receive from students about the experience is always exceptional. I’ve never once had negative feedback from a student regarding clinical educators or role players because of their ability to help the students relax and also give them constructive feedback about both their physical examination skills and their communication skills. It’s often the case that students can feel more anxiety when working with an academic clinician than with an external educator such as an ACE.

BOB: Yes, I’ve noticed how much more relaxed the students are with us and I guess it’s because we come in at their level in many ways and with our knowledge of systems examinations we can help them practice their techniques quickly and effectively without recourse to in-depth academic analysis. It’s hands on without too much theory, which a lot of students crave.

They really enjoy the hands-on skills we help them with, and even simple techniques like palpation and percussion are keenly rehearsed with us over and over. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can cause the most confusion and we are there to hold their hands, as it were.

I was obviously trained by Clinicians like yourself, but the students often comment on how knowledgeable we are in terms of our understanding of the examination process. We are also able to tell whether the student is gaining rapport with the patient and handling the patient in a respectful way. That and of course our extensive understanding on what is expected in OSCE’s.

As an ACE and role player, I and my colleagues must have been through 1000s of OSCE stations in our time. We have a good idea what an examiner is looking for, and this gives us a lot of credibility when students ask about OSCEs. It’s one of their big concerns, and having this knowledge helps us build trust with the students.

JAMES: Yes, I’ve noticed that when we work with you guys, you have this knack of reading the whole situation and responding appropriately. The fact that you have background knowledge of history taking and Systems Examinations, as well as a clear understanding as to what’s required in the OSCEs, has been tremendous in improving the students ability to, not just pass exams but turn out as very good, very safe clinicians. The feedback you guys give about excessive use of jargon is also important and can sometimes be missed by volunteer patients, for example.

Consulting with simulated patients when it might be called upon for them to perform intimate examinations, are made so much easier when working with an experienced ACE. That ability to help the student keep their sense of humour and deal effectively in a relaxed manner in what could be a very embarrassing situation.

Like I said you guys are an  invaluable resource. I don’t know how you how you found it over the years, but I think it’s grown into something far more meaningful than we ever thought it would be.

BOB: Obviously you have embraced the idea of using ACEs as part of your teaching methodology and you find them of great value in consolidating the students learning. Yet, there are only a few institutions that utilise our skills. Chester, Wolverhampton and Birmingham are the three I know of. Why do you think ACEs have not been used elsewhere, bearing in mind the high value you place on them?

JAMES: Ultimately if we’re going to be completely honest, I think a lot of it comes down to money and resources and availability, which is a real shame, because as we know working with ACEs really embellish and enrich the student experience, and we have both alluded to the fact that ultimately students retain information and learn faster when examining real people. People who can give extensive feedback in a structured way and link that to the real world. We were even talking about getting the ACE role validated, which I know you have been a keen advocate of. That would be icing on the cake as it were.

BOB: Yes, I for one would be very keen to have the role validated. I think academics would take us more seriously and once they had experienced working with an ACE, would then realise the value and they would then add is to their program.

JAMES:  Absolutely. We’ve spoken about this in the past and I think it needs to be a requirement and there is an important need to have some accreditation process or some monitoring, because it is actually a very robust system.

Academics who have not experienced working with an ACE might not be aware of the amount of training that goes into being an effective ACE, and I have seen the type of preparation ACEs go through, both as individuals and as part of the team. That’s the other aspect that needs to be mentioned. When you work with us at Chester, you really are seen as part of the team and are treated as such.

BOB: Yes, that’s true. We feel valued as much as other external educators, and we do appreciate it. It makes for a smooth working relationship and I think the students notice this too.

The recent Pandemic must have posed challenges for you as an educator and I know it has affected the amount of work we have had. Some Institutions were up and running, but most seemed to struggle with embracing the new idea of working online. What was your experience like?

JAMES:  Yeah, that’s a good question, actually. Obviously, we have had to change our approach to clinical practise and there have been significant changes in general practise in the community. We have had to work with video conferencing, telephone triage and consultations and we have found new ways to use these technologies with you guys at Meducate.

In fact, you were up and running as soon as the lockdown happened. This was great news for us, as we could use your services almost immediately and the skill and depth of understanding you brought to this new way of working was refreshing. Everything ran like clockwork. I can only say thanks and say that for those reading this Meducate can provide you with an excellent and very professional service.

***

I would like to thank James for giving permission to abbreviate our podcast and in future posts will include more interviews with clinicians as well as ACEs and students.

Associate Clinical Educators On Film At Chester University

Course Director James Ennis performing a knee examination on ACE Bob
ACE Bob works closely with Course Director James Ennis whilst performing a knee examination for a training video at Chester University

It’s true to say that during the Covid – 19 crises our services have not been required as much as normal. Whilst many institutions seem to be struggling to embrace online teaching some have risen to the challenge and hit the ground running. We have been fortunate however, working with both Wolverhampton and Chester Universities on their PA Programs. This is great news as it helps keep our skillsets sharp and allows us the opportunity to embrace this new way of working.

Teaching online does have its challenges but I find it as easy as if we were working face to face with students in a classroom. The feedback we have received from students has been excellent and this gives us confidence that what we are doing is hitting the mark.

Working with students directly, and in particular with Physical examinations, has not yet been possible due to social distancing. This will change soon with September seeing us back in the driving seat working as ACEs.

James Ennis and Mark (ACE) preparing for a Lower Limb Neurology Examination that is being recorded for training purposes
Experienced ACE Mark assists James Ennis (Course Director Chester University) in performing a Lower Limb Neurology Examination

Many ACEs and role players are also trained actors which obviously ensures that scenarios are realistic and believable. We often get feedback from students saying how “real” they felt the interaction was, and because of our varied skillsets we often get asked to make training videos. These, more often than not, see us in consultations with us acting as patients, who might have challenging behaviours, as well as physical conditions and a comprehensive history.

Last week, we had a opportunity work with the Chester University PA Program when we were asked to take part in a filming session for James Ennis the Clinical Director at Chester University. We were tasked with developing a training video demonstrating a variety of typical Musculo-Skeletal Examinations (MSK).

We have been trained in clinical MSK examinations over 10 years ago by Professor Edward Davies (Consultant Surgeon) and Andy Emms (Consultant Physiotherapist) of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. This means that our level of skill and knowledge of how to prepare the students to perform these examinations is text book.

We often help prepare PA students and 4th Year Medical Students when working for The University of Birmingham Medical School in MSK examinations and this has sharpened our skills. This experience has been invaluable to our education as an ACE, as well as us being able to take advantage of online resources that are readily available if you know where to look.

The requirement was for us to go through complete Hip, Knee, Shoulder and Lumber Spine examinations, which also included Upper and Lower Limb Neurological exams.

With the help of Scott Howard from simulation, we managed to film all of the sequences and we look forward to seeing them being used by all those on the PA program in the near future. What made it even more useful was that we were able to review our knowledge base, and have an opportunity to practice skills we have not used for 4 months. It was a win-win situation!

I was assisted as always by my travelling companion Mark, who made the journey up to Chester pass by in the wink of an eye.

If you want to find out more about the role of the ACE and how we can help your students improve their technique, contact is at Meducate Academy.