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A mixed methods study of student perceptions of using standardized patients for learning and evaluation

Authors Giesbrecht E, Wener P, Pereira G

Received 14 March 2014

Accepted for publication 21 March 2014

Published 12 August 2014 Volume 2014:5 Pages 241—255


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Edward M Giesbrecht,1 Pamela F Wener,1 Gisèle M Pereira2

1Department of Occupational Therapy, 2Department of Physical Therapy, College of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Background: Educators recognize the value of using standardized patients (SPs) when teaching and evaluating clinical skills in rehabilitation entry-to-practice education programs but have published little supporting evidence and have yet to evaluate programmatic SP use from a student perspective. This study explored occupational and physical therapy students' perceptions of SP use in their professional education.
Methods: Recruiting current and graduated students, we conducted a two-phase mixed-methods sequential-explanatory study integrating data from a quantitative survey (phase 1) and qualitative focus groups with representative students (phase 2). Quantitative data were used to direct the second phase and informed selection of a purposive sample to participate in four focus groups (N=12).
Results: The 24-item online survey obtained a 32% response rate (N=167). Mean ratings were high, but significant differences were found between the four subsections of Teaching, SP Experience, Feedback, and Evaluation (P=0.000). Secondary analyses revealed significant differences based on sex, program, and age. Qualitative analysis revealed that students found SP use especially helpful earlier in their program to bridge classroom teaching and clinical practice. Students in the occupational and physical therapy programs approached SP interactions differently in terms of the authenticity, personal investment, and value of SP feedback. Educator feedback was perceived as reflective of technical skill, and SP feedback reflective of therapeutic value, which students prioritized differently. Students identified a preferential continuum of options for learning and practicing skills, ranging from peers and instructors through SPs to actual patients.
Conclusion: SPs were perceived as most useful early on in the professional education program, serving to bolster self-confidence and prepare students for clinical fieldwork. Discipline-specific differences impact the perception of SP use and value. Educators need to be aware of pragmatic and contextual issues when using SPs for examination purposes, including repeated exposure to the same actor.

Keywords: occupational therapy, physical therapy, teaching

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