Teaching Medical Students About Disability: The Use of Standardized Patients

Thursday, September 1, 2011
Cover of September 2011 Academic Medicine
Linda Long-Bellil, PhD, JD
Commonwealth Medicine
Kenneth Robey, PHD
Matheny Institute for Research in Developmental Disabilities
Catherine Graham, MEBME
University of South Carolina School
Paula Minihan, PHD
Tufts University School of Medicine
Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FAAN
Villanova University
Paul Kahn, MEd
Tufts University School of Medicine

Standardized patients (SPs), now a mainstay of the undergraduate medical education experience, are beginning to play larger roles in helping students build competencies to better serve patients who have disabilities, in educating students about the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, and in testing students' understanding of disability-related issues. In this article, the authors discuss several U.S. training programs that involve SPs who have disabilities or SPs who do not have disabilities but who portray patients who do. The authors review the goals of each program (e.g., to provide students with opportunities to gain experience with patients with disabilities), describe their commonalities (enhancing students' interview skills) and differences (some programs are educational; some are evaluative), and summarize the evaluative data of each. The authors also explore the benefits and challenges of working with SPs with disabilities and of working with SPs without disabilities. Finally, they consider the practical issues (e.g., recruiting SPs) of developing and implementing such programs.