Working on the Physician Associate Programmes as an Associate Clinical Educator is always a pleasure. It’s an even better experience when you give a new ACE an opportunity to spread their wings and fly solo for a day. They are the lifeblood of the organisation, after all.
This week we gave one of our new ACEs the opportunity to work with us at the University of Chester on the PA programme. We also gave a potential ACE the opportunity to shadow another experienced ACE before being let loose on the students.
We were tasked with assisting in the teaching of Musculoskeletal Examinations: Hands, Feet, Shoulders, Knee and Hip, with the help of clinical Lecturers Jack and Alice, who had prepared the students with an earlier lecture.
I particularly enjoy the MSK sessions and as I have some significant pathologies myself. This gave the students the opportunity to work with someone with real musculoskeletal problems, and also able to give feedback to the students on their examination technique.
Teaching in the skills suite next door was Greg Hobbs, a trusted and highly experienced Associate Clinical Educators. He was being shadowed by Vikki one of our newly trained ACEs.
I was in the main skills suite with Howard, one of our new ACEs, who was now being given an opportunity to show me and the clinicians what he could do. He never let me down and his understanding of motivational interviewing techniques also allowed him to help the PA students sharpen their communication skills.
All of our Associate Clinical Educators are highly experienced communicators before they embark upon our ACE training programme. This is one of the main criteria for the role.
Clinical skills are important, but so are communication skills, and we pride ourselves on being able to give structured feedback to students about both elements of their interaction with an “expert patient”.
We always give the groups a small demonstration of the examination being taught, then we let the students get hands on with the ACEs as soon as possible, making sure everyone engages with the lesson for the day.
Keeping the students engaged is another skill we are very good at. All of our ACEs have performance based training backgrounds and are trained actors, and know how to keep an audience focussed on the performance. This is an important but often missed aspect of clinical teaching and is not something that is taught to clinical educators normally.
We believe that it is important for the students to have a light hearted approach to the training. Learning should be enjoyable and not be a chore.
Next week is revision week at Chester University, so three of our experienced ACEs are up there again to help the students prepare for their Mock OSCEs, another aspect of the important role we play.
If you have enjoyed this post and want to learn more about how we can add hi-fidelity simulation with structured feedback to your students and institution, why not come online on the 4th September 2021 at 12 noon and listen to 6 clinical leads talk about their experience of working with ACEs and Meducate Academy. It’s free and you even receive a free hardback, soft touch notebook in the post!
Meducate Academy recently embarked upon a continuing ACE recruitment and training programme with candidates who had expressed an interest in our ACE training schedules. We emphasised that the role we play is vital in ensuring a clinician is safe to practice with an actual patient and how much commitment is required to fulfill the role of an ACE.
Saturday 15th May 2021 was a very busy day at ‘Meducate Towers’ as we embarked upon our continuing ACE recruitment and training programme. After an initial online webinar a few weeks ago we set Saturday as the date to bring in those candidates who had expressed an interest in our ACE training schedules.
After an initial conversation, in which Mark and I outlined our background and history, we then went on to explain the role of the ACE in medical training. We went onto describe the body systems and how the student clinician would examine a patient. What then followed was a typical ACE hands-on session, with Mark playing the Physician Associate Student, and I as the ACE/simulated patient giving feedback.
This was a great opportunity for the candidates to see how much knowledge is required in order for them to fulfill their role with Meducate Academy. I think it surprised those watching just how much skill and knowledge is necessary to perform the task. Though we did explain that we have been in the role for twelve years, emphasising that this was not our expectation of them at the moment. ACE Training is an ongoing process and even Mark and I are still learning and developing our roles as ACEs.
As you can see from the heavily edited video above, Mark was playing a poorly prepared student. This was an extreme example which gave us the opportunity to show how the ACE needs to be alert when working in a situation with a below standard student.
We explained that the student does not expect us to give feedback on the students’ medical knowledge, or on their diagnosis, but on their technique when performing the examination. Of course, we would also comment on the students’ communication skills if we had any concerns.
Our role is to ensure that the student is safe to practice with a real patient and make a valuable contribution to their profession.
After the demonstration was over, we then went into an Q & A session, which included questions on the duration of training and how their assessment will be carried out. We explained that although the initial training is quite short, we will expect them to shadow an experienced ACE until we feel they are ready to take on the role. We emphasised that the part we play is vital in ensuring a clinician is safe to practice with an actual patient, and so stress was placed on the role and how much commitment is required to fulfill the role of an ACE.
Our customers are highly skilled professional educators and we expect the same high standard from our ACEs.
We are currently working on educational materials for the ACEs, and this is being done in conjunction with senior clinicians who are overseeing the development of this information. These instructional materials include training videos, handbooks and regular telephone or internet support along the way.
Meducate Academy has also been working recently with PAs at Wolverhampton and Chester Universities, and we received welcome news that many of our students had passed their National exams. Good news indeed.
Last weekend Mark and I worked with Matrix Education, again helping student Physician Associates get ready for their upcoming exams. It was great to touch base with students from every part of the UK and a pleasure to work with the team at Matrix, as always. I recently did a podcast with founder of Matrix EducationSofia Hiramatsu and we will be posting a video of the podcast next week on this blog.
I have also spent some time with Wolverhampton University developing their Golden 2 sessions on a weekday evening. If you have ever taken part in OSCEs, you’ll know that one of the vital parts of an OSCE station is the 2 minutes that the students have to read the question.
Sometimes, students find this really difficult and often miss the obvious. With this in mind, Peter Gorman of the Wolverhampton PA Program has put together sessions based purely on “how to read the question”. His approach has been really successful. Helping the student get to grips with being able to answer the question effectively, and I can’t believe someone has not attempted this before. Maybe they have!
It has been an honour to be involved in these sessions and I have seen this approach help struggling students turn a corner in their development. I intend to write something with Pete about this in the next few weeks.
The month ahead looks busy, so I would like to thank all those who attended the Webinar on Saturday. We are currently putting dates together for the initial 2 day training course.
If you are a role player who wishes to take your medical roleplay to the next level, we are always on the lookout for new people, so get in touch.
My journey as An Associate Clinical Educator started way back in 1984 when I enrolled on the Drama and Theatre Arts Degree course at The University of Birmingham. It was a massive departure from my previous life back in the North of England. I was a mature student and at least ten years older than my fellow students, and the real challenge was also having two small children in tow! The course was the best thing I could have done and has changed my life immeasurably.
I would never have imagined that many years later I would work as an associate clinical educator at the same university but this time in the Medical School and not the Drama department.
After qualification I was working as an actor in TV, Film, Theatre and Motion Capture. I served a fifteen year apprenticeship as a comedian on the alternative comedy circuit through the late 80s to the early noughties as part of a double act.
It was during my time as a comedian that I was able to develop skills as an performer and spent this time persuading the audience that we were funny. Working as a live comedian is the best place to learn to deal with an audience. If you don’t get your message across, you are told to “Get Off”. Not usually as politely as that!
In the background to this I was also building my skills as a corporate educator, motivational speaker, and a Trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). NLP is something I continue to be involved with to the present day.
In 2009 I changed direction and applied to be a Medical Role Player with The Interactive Skills Unit (ISU) at The University of Birmingham. This required a different set of skills and as well as acting I was also expected to give feedback to the medical students after having role played various scenarios with them. A different way of working for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.
It was during a GPVTS roleplay session that the Manager of the ISU, Karen Reynolds, approached me and asked if I would be interested in working as an ACE. This was a role developed by Professor Jim Parle of The Physician Associate Programme at Birmingham. I jumped at the chance and embraced this new venture. It would shape the course of my future career working with health professionals.
With the help of Jim Parle I embarked upon my new career as an ACE. It meant I could combine my skills as a communicator alongside my new growing knowledge of body systems examinations. Giving feedback on the students technique as well as their communication skills. I could now help the student on two levels. Having been a trained engineer in the 70s I took to the role easily, as body systems are not dissimilar to mechanical systems. I also took this approach whilst studying anatomy and physiology.
Over the next six months I bought books on body system examinations and practiced the techniques with Mark, one of the other ACEs. Together we made a formidable team and worked with The Physician Associates and their Clinical staff. The clinicians were always supportive of our efforts and always made us feel part of the team. They gave us insight into the methodology of examining the CV, respiratory, GI, cranial nerves, upper and lower limb neurology. We also helped the students’ approach to sitting the OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Exams). We were learning on the job and I spent many hours pouring over medical textbooks to enhance my knowledge in my own time.
In 2011 I was offered a chance to learn examinations of the musculo-skeletal systems, working for The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital (ROH). Training was carried out by Consultant Surgeon Mr Edward Davis and Consultant Physiotherapist Andy Emms. These sessions were well structured, theoretical and practical, and they guided us through the hip, knee, shoulder, spine, hand and ankle examinations in great detail along with supporting materials. This would be another string to my bow.
As time went on, I was fortunate to work with some great clinicians who were always happy to help and answer my questions. Some have even become friends as well as colleagues.
I now have the pleasure of extending my knowledge to other universities and institutions and find myself able to offer employment and training to other role players and actors wishing to embark on this amazing career.
I am also in the process of creating a course with a view to ACEs gaining accreditation for the role through one of our partners. I believe this is vitally important in maintaining high standards of teaching to the medical students. Many of the clinicians I have worked with over the years have offered their help in teaching new ACEs to the very highest level.
Who would have thought it would have come this far? It’s thanks to the people who gave me the opportunity to reach out to students and help them on their journey to becoming great clinicians.
The recent pandemic saw a downturn with employment in the field for many role players, but I was able to take up this challenge and run with it. Working in conjunction with Peter Gorman at The University of Wolverhampton and James Ennis at Chester University, we were able to teach online and take OSCEs from March 2020 right up to the present date. Thus ensuring the students had as little disruption as possible to their studies. Sadly, some universities did not embrace this way of working until much later. We were therefore ahead of the curve in adapting to the changing working environment and I was able to offer employment to some of my friends and colleagues.
It is during tough times like this that I fully realise the significance of one of my lifelong maxims:
There is no Failure. Only Feedback.
If 2020-21 was anything to go by, 2022 promises to be an exceptional year for Meducate Academy. This is how I see the future.
If you, like me, fancy a real challenge, come work with Meducate Academy and join us on the journey.
Feedback is important to the student and is also of importance for us to receive feedback on our performance. This is a vital part of the communication interaction and helps us improve our facilitation skills.
At Meducate Academy we always want to hear what the student thinks of the session and we often ask them to appraise our performance and give us feedback, and it’s always nice when that feedback comes in the form of a testimonial that you just didn’t expect.
Last week we were lucky enough to work with the 2nd year Physician Associate cohort at The University of Chester. A very highly motivated group of students who show real promise. We were assisting clinicians in teaching MSK and general systems examinations, and the day went well.
There were six ACEs teaching all day and each group broke off into their separate rooms, observing the current Covid-19 restrictions. The students were able to take histories and then perform a physical examination. We then asked them to report their findings (if any) and give a summary and management plan.
I was happy that everyone performed well (including the ACEs) and we left Chester in high spirits.
Our return journey to Birmingham gave us a chance to reflect on our performance and that of the groups we were working with, and we all felt that the day had gone well. Self-reflection is an important part of the process for all Meducate Academy employees and allows us to develop our skills to the highest standard.
Within 24 hours some students had put a post up on Instagram and I felt I had to share it here on the blog.
We are currently working on writing a manual that will help students pass their OSCEs. This is in partnership with a senior clinician from The Royal Orthopedic Hospital. It’s aim is to give two different perspectives on the OSCE process. The first is from the point of view of the ACE/simulated patient and the other from the examiners perspective. We believe this is the first time anything like this has been published. As ACEs and simulated patients we have been involved in thousands of hours of OSCEs which in-turn gives us an insight into how students can improve their performance. Keep your eyes peeled for this in the near future.
On a similar note Matrix Education has produced Primary Care For Physician Associates, an excellent reference source for the training of physicians associates which is available now. One of the authors, Sofia Hiramatsu, was an old student of mine at the University of Birmingham medical school. She is now a successful PA working in London and founder of Matrix Education. I am particularly proud of her achievements in the field of medical education. At over 600 pages, this book will be a useful aid to not only help you pass your exams but also serve as as useful aide memoir when you are qualified as a Physician Associate.
It’s always important for an ACE to understand the protocols health professionals must follow to help them take a good history from a patient. Once we understand this we are able to give hi-fidelity feedback to the Clinician and thus help them improve their ability to build rapport and gather information simultaneously.
Last week I had the pleasure of working with our partners at The University of Chester and The University of Wolverhampton Physician Associate Programmes.
At Chester University we worked with 1st Year physician associates and at Wolverhampton we were working with 2nd year students. In both cases we were looking at how students communicate effectively with patients. What was apparent is the importance of quality feedback to the student.
For the students at Chester this was their first time looking at role-play, it was difficult convincing shy students to step up to the plate and hear their thoughts. It turns out that the ACE also has to be something of a motivator encouraging the students to take part. To get to grips with the scenario and to see that “roleplay” can be fun and educational, rather than scary and intimidating. It is this element of teaching that I particularly enjoy.
Wolverhampton however was very different, but still had its challenges. Although the students were more experienced with role-play and history taking, we still had a lot of work to do as the scenarios were far more challenging.
This week however, they had a reprieve from taking part in role-play.
I had been asked by the clinical lead Pete Gorman to deliver a session on communication theory and to talk about the practical challenges students face when talking to a difficult patient.
Whenever we communicate we interact both verbally and non-verbally, and understanding how we can make this work would take more than this short article. Here is a brief synopsis of what we discussed.
There are four legs to effective communication and these are:
Knowing your Outcome
Rapport is key to successful communication. Indeed without rapport it is very difficult to influence anyone, whether that be to make behavioral change or to take a simple history. We have all had that experience with another person when we feel we just connect. We sometimes find ourselves engaged in a conversation with a stranger and feel that they are just like us. That is rapport. People deeply in love have rapport to the extent that they mirror each others’ posture, language and even breathing patterns. That is rapport.
In order to be effective in our communications with patients we must also be aware of the continuous process of feedback. It is important to know whether we are getting what we want from our communication. To do this effectively we must have sensory acuity. We notice changes in physiology, breathing, eye accessing and language patterns. Armed with this information we can build rapport more authentically and deepen the relationship with the patient.
Once we have noticed these seemingly imperceptible cues, we can help the patient make better decisions and connect fully with the health professional. Using these tools will allow the clinician to help the patient to have a greater awareness of the choices available to them in the present, rather than have these choices restricted by past experiences and out-dated responses. This is what we sometimes call motivational interviewing.
Finally, everything you achieve is an outcome. If you are successful in your endeavours; that is an outcome. If you don’t succeed, that is still an outcome. Whatever we do results in an outcome. In order to achieve desirable outcomes we need to effectively model what works and then go out and do it! Rehearsal through role-play is the key to achieving positive outcomes when taking a history. You will always get what you ask for! Ask in the correct way and you will achieve your goal.
Whilst all of the above should be noted there are other important considerations that a clinician should be aware of in history taking.
I asked the students to remember the following when taking a history.
Presenting complaints – This is a list of the main symptoms or problems.
History of presenting complaint – This is an in-depth description the the presenting compliant.
Previous medical history – This is a comprehensive list of the all the illnesses, conditions and operation the patient has had in the past.
Drug history – A list of all of the patients medications and any allergies they may have.
Family history – Ask about conditions that run in the family.
Social history – This includes information about home, occupation, hobbies and habits. This would include smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.
Systems review – This a checklist of closed questions for every organ system in the body.
Using open and closed questions is an important skill. Closed questions at the start of a consultations encourage short yes and no type answers. Not good for building rapport in the opening stages of a meeting. Open questions encourage the patient to talk and that can be useful. Save the closed questions for gathering a quick response.
A common question I get from students is what factors hinder good communication? The list is extensive and I’ve seen and heard them all, but here are a few.
A badly worded introduction where you don’t clearly say your name. Not remembering the patients name, embarrassment, lack of curiosity, not asking the right types of questions, not making the right amount of eye contact, misreading body language, making assumptions, not listening actively, missing cues, not knowing how to deal with an answer, an over talkative patient, misunderstandings, making assumptions about the patient, stacking questions, judgemental behaviours. There are so many!
At the end of the session I gave students strategies to go away and practice. We always have opportunities every day to practice our communication skills. Unless you’re a hermit of course!
Check out the interactions between Mark and Bob on the video and if you are an actor interested in becoming a medical role-player and want to take it to the next level get in touch and join our growing ACE team. We will be posting dates for the next ACE training soon.
Meducate: What can you tell me about the difference between a Role Player and an ACE (Associate Clinical Educator)?
Mark: A role player is involved in clinical communication, in that they play opposite a medical student as a patient or colleague in order to to improve their learning in terms of their technique of clinical communication. The associate clinical educator is also trained as a role player but is also trained in the body system examination so they are a hand on resource for the student to work on. The ACE then feeds back how well the student carries out that examination.
Meducate: You mentioned the term “body systems” what do you mean by that?
Mark: The basic body systems, from the point of view of the medical world, would be the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological and musculoskeletal systems. We are trained to give feedback on their examination technique. Techniques such as percussion, auscultation and palpation. We never teach pathology, that’s up to an academic tutor who normally works alongside us.
Meducate: So the academic tutor teaches the pathologies and the theory, and you are the resource? A bit like a living mannequin?
Mark: Yes, we are a living resource able to give feedback on the technique as well as our extensive knowledge of the OSCEs and what is required in those academic exams. At first Techniques like Percussion and Palpation are often a problem for new students, and we can guide them in the correct technique as well as ensuring they’re in the correct position on the body.
Meducate: And because you’re also a communications expert, you can give feedback on their ability to communicate effectively and build rapport with the patient.
Mark: Absolutely yes. Communication is a vital part of the examination process and it would be remiss of me to allow a student to carry on if they couldn’t build rapport with the patient.
Meducate: So can you describe a typical session with an ACE?
Mark: So normally a body system is picked for the day and the ACE will be working with four to six students. Sometimes the clinician may do a live demonstration using the ACE as the model, and then the students will be taken through the various pathologies they may come across on a typical patient. The students would then be left to work with the ACE, and they would then give feedback about how well they are doing. Having a “Talk the Walk” approach works very well, as we can direct the student toward the correct method right from the start. Sometimes we may run a scenario alongside the physical examination and thereby making it more realistic. With the help of the clinician present, we will also include a management plan and how to explain that to the patient in layman’s terms. We can also present various pathologies to the student such as asymmetrical breathing, antalgic gait, Shortness of breath and many more. We even have a member of the team who can create ulcers, bruising, and other physical signs using moulage.
Meducate: I have heard students say that they feel more relaxed when working with an ACE can you expand on that?
Mark: Yes, when a student has a clinician in the room they feel that they are being judged. Which of course is true. We are there as a resource, a tool, if you will to help them develop without judgement. It is true that we assess them, but not professionally. We are not qualified Medics!
Meducate: ACEs are often used in OSCEs to great effect. How does that work?
Mark: During an OSCE it is not possible for the examiner to feel what is going on such as palpation, and that’s where we can give our feedback about how well the palpation went. Whether it was painful or too light. Because of our intensive hands on training, we know what a good technique is. This ensures that the PA is safe to practice once qualified. It should be remembered too that we have probably been involved in thousands of OSCEs, so we have an extensive experience, often much more than the examiners themselves. Examiners often remark on how extensive our knowledge is!
Meducate: Better than a real patient?
Mark: Yes, very different. A patient will not be qualified to give feedback. Of course, working with real patients is also valuable to the learning process.
Meducate: Thanks for taking time out to chat with us, Mark.
Matt Chapman is Managing Director of Meducate and is a founding member of the company. In this post, Matt talks about his vision for the company and how Meducate differs from other companies he has worked for over the years.
“I’ve been involved with Meducate from it’s inception over 2 years ago and the big thing that stood out for me was how engaged the students were with the ACEs and the methods we use. Feedback was always phenomenal something I hadn’t experienced in any other business before. There’s always a grumpy customer that you have to deal with in any business, but with Meducate it was always positive feedback.
“Every time we engage with an institution and their students, they give us 5 stars across the board.
“When we first met and you talked about the concept of Meducate you were already doing corporate training with me and when you told me about the potential of the ACE role in medical training, I suspended my judgement on how good you said the work was. I remember coming on the first session with one of our earliest customers at Wolverhampton and it was all true. Not only were you and the other ACE enjoying the day but so were the students. Id never seen that level of engagement with anyone in business before. 100% of the class were involved and craved more! That is when I knew we could make this work. In business we always want a win-win situation, and this seemed to be the right type of service to offer. That and the fact that we are almost the only people to be offering this service.
“The fact that this had never been picked up on before and was an open market surprised me. I know there are lots of role play companies out there offering medical role players, but the role of the ACE is unknown. My only concern was, would we have enough ACEs to cover the 40 + institutions that may need our services. Our answer came with the pandemic. This gave us time to regroup and begin training role players in the skills required for them to perform as an ACE. We did this with the help of some senior academic tutors and experienced clinicians who work in the health care sector. Again, this was another of Meducate’s strengths. Our ability to contact the right people is paramount and we are even in discussions to validate the role of the ACE with two Universities keen to promote what we do.
“I was asked recently what drives me in business and I remember we were talking about values and how you see the work we do at Meducate. One of the core values I have always had was with having the ability to measure and monitor every aspect of the customer experience. That would be at all levels. So how well do we handle incoming calls and meetings with potential clients? Feedback from students is something I have already talked about, but what do the clinicians think? How do they feel about utilising ACEs in the educational process and how valuable are they? The answers coming back so far have been outstanding. I really believe in giving the customer what they want and will always work with them to achieve their goals.
“I have always believed in being transparent with the people who work for us and the customer. Keeping everyone in the loop on a regular basis makes for a happy and fruitful relationship.
“What has been difficult, but I have now adapted too, is the sudden changes a client might make at the last minute about the type of training they want delivered? I was surprised by how flexible our ACEs were. They were able to shift gear quickly and improvise, effectively delivering exactly what the customer wanted. This I believe is one of Meducate’s great strengths and is due to the intensity, passion and abilities of the people we have working with us.
“With regard to the abilities of the ACEs I would like to mention that we update the ACEs skill sets every 6 months and will run regular training days to help the ACE with any areas in which they might feel weak. We want everyone to feel like they’re part of a family and if we all look after each other, we will all prosper. It’s a continuing process that we can’t let slip. As times change, we must change, as we have all recently experienced, and we were quickly working online in March of this year. I don’t believe any other organisation reacted that quickly. We were already prepared to provide online trainings anyway, so it was simply a matter of contacting our customers and setting it up.
“In closing, I would just like to say that I feel we are a very under-used resource, but we have professional credibility with several universities using us and several ACEs with over 12 years’ experience. If you want to test us out, why not call us or email or call us for a 5 minute conversation?”