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The Importance Of Feedback From The Physician Associate Student

Meducate Academy - Teaching physician associates the importance of having a systematic approach to physical exams

In my last post The Associated Clinical Educators Role In Providing Feedback To Student Clinicians, I talked about the importance of feedback to the Physician Associate student and how an ACE structures their feedback to ensure that they achieve the best learning outcomes.

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.

Meducate Academy review on Instagram

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.

Primary care for physician associates by matrix educationOn 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.

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.

Meducate Academy: Building Lasting Partnerships

Bache Hall, University of Chester
Bache Hall was the venue for this years Summative OSCEs for the 2nd year physician associates

What a great week we have had this week.

We started the week with a mixture of Summative OSCEs for The University of Chester and ended the week with a long day of filming MSK examination procedures for The University of Wolverhampton.

The University of Chester Physician Associate Programme, under the guidance of Course Director James Ennis, were running a series of online and in person Summative OSCEs for their 2nd year students.

We had seven ACEs working on a variety of stations. I was personally responsible for being in Chester taking two days out to work alongside senior clinicians working on Suicide Assessment and Breaking Bad news scenarios.

Preparing for a days filming with Wolverhampton University
Setting up the scene and preparing for filming at the Meducate Offices

The team of ACEs from Meducate Academy gave a great account of themselves and all received glowing testimonials from the Clinicians they were working with. We had no problems with the technology and Chester University has mastered the art of working on Microsoft Teams to great effect. Even the students commented on how well organised the two days went.

Running OSCEs is always a challenge for both Meducate Academy and the universities involved. Our extensive experience working in this fields for over ten years ensures that we always deliver the best service.

Our close working relationship with Chester University means no matter what happens we all work together as a team to ensure the students have the best possible educational experience. I always know that things are going well when individual students remember the names of our ACEs and ask for them by name. It’s also important to build relationships with the students.

Friday morning saw Meducate Academy back in our offices in Birmingham, filming a whole range of Musculoskeletal Examinations for The University of Wolverhampton in preparation for their 2021 teaching modules and the start of their new cohort in February.

Course Lead Pete Gorman and myself filmed Hip, Knee, Shoulder, Spine, Wrist and Foot exams in great detail with explanations of how they can be adapted when demonstrating them on an OSCE station. Safe practice was always the main focus of the sessions, and we made mention of the importance of accurate communication with the patient.

Clinical lead Pete Gorman prepares to preform a hip examination
Clinical lead Pete Gorman prepares to preform a hip examination on the ACE at Meducate Academy

Although the day was long it was made easier by the shared sense of humour of both Professor Kenny Langlands (Course Director), Pete Gorman (Course Clinical Lead) and the team from Meducate Academy.

We also managed to film a short interview with Kenny and Pete as to how they see their close relationship with us and how important the ACE role is with regard to the development of the student Physician Associate.

The films are now in the film edit process and I shall work on this all week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends and colleagues at both The University of Wolverhampton and the University of Chester for making 2020 a significant year for us, despite the restrictions placed on us by a series of Lockdowns.

2021 could be our best year yet.

Why not join us!

If you are a roleplayer, actor or clinician and wish to be part of the Meducate Team contact us by sending your name and email in the box below.

In Conversation With Senior Associate Clinical Educator Mark Reynolds

Interview with Associate Clinical Educator Mark Reynolds
Associate Clinical Educator Mark Reynolds giving feedback to a PA student on a recent course

A few subscribers have asked me to expand further on the role of the ACE, and this is a transcript of an interview I did with fellow ACE Mark Reynolds a few years ago. It still has relevance today and should answer any questions I have received over the past few months.

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.