Have you ever wondered how doctors are trained? Along with taking many hours of rigorous coursework, doctors must also learn how to directly examine and work with patients. In order to facilitate this aspect of training, there is the Clinical Skills Lab on the Comp-Northwest campus.

The Clinical Skills Lab is a mock medical clinic, complete with nine examination rooms, medical examination tables, and even mock patients. The first time I stepped foot in that lab was during my admissions interview.

Since then, I have had dozens of mock patient encounters in which I play the role of the doctor, and the patient role is played by professional actors that come from all over the state. Western University students have more patient encounters in their first semester than students at other schools have during the entire duration of their four-year medical school training. Why? Because Western University’s Osteopathic Medicine philosophy is one of humanism, empathy, and compassion.

Since that very first patient encounter during my interview, I have learned to use a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, reflex hammer, and many other tools from the medical bag that I received during the Comp-Northest Convocation and White Coat Ceremony.

The medical bag that my classmates and I received were gifts sponsored by individuals and business owners in our Lebanon community. What a blessing!

As part of my school training, I have learned clinical skills from physicians Dr. John Pham, Dr. Derrick Sorweide, and many other physicians in the community. These doctors also prepare us for the patient encounters. As we participate in the encounter, we are scored based on our performance in a variety of categories.

During these mock patient encounters, time is of the essence. With fourteen minutes to take a medical history and perform a physical exam, every second counts! All that is allowed in the exam room is a blank piece of paper and a medical bag.

All history questions and physical examination techniques must be performed by memory. To forget or to perform an exam component incorrectly means losing valuable points needed to pass the class.

If the clinical case played by the standardized patient is one of a heart attack, for example, upon correct osculation of the heart in the appropriate areas, the actor-patient will hand the student doctor a finding card describing the heart sound that was heard. Then, the student doctor is able to complete the exam and present the diagnosis. Failure to show empathy, compassion, or rapport with a patient will also result in a grade penalty.

Indeed, clinical mock patient encounters are a stressful experience! However, they are all geared toward our preparation for third- and fourth-year hospital rotations as well as our National Licensing Board Exams. These exams are taken in our third year in Philadelphia. During this exam, we have ten mock encounters in a row. After most encounters at WesternU, students receive feedback by the standardized patients on the performance of our examination, and on the empathy and compassion that we showed.

I am thankful to the physicians in our community and those at Western University that teach us our clinical skills. All of us-- the students, the community, the staff, and the standardized patients are working for the same goal. As Dean Crone reminds us constantly, at the end of every thing we do -- the exams and the studying-- there is always, a patient.

Jonathan Shader is a second-year student at COMP-Norhwest who plans on becoming an ophthalmologist. 

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