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Molding Medicine’s Next Generation

By Edward Graham

Retired in 1999, after a 30-year career teaching middle and high school gifted and talented students in Jefferson County, Colo., Charlotte Green is still helping to shape the next generation of students.  

Green is a part-time standardized—or “mock”—patient for health care professionals at the University of Colorado School of Medicine CAPE (Center for Advancing Professional Excellence) program in Aurora, Colo. The role requires Green to assume a variety of different ailments for neophyte doctors to diagnose.

I’m a patient for the medical students, and we do all the different branches of medicine, including pharmacy,” Green says. “We have a script that runs about 10 pages that we learn, as well as possible questions that they may ask. If they ask a question that isn’t on our list, we have to be able to talk about it on the spot.”  Each portrayal also has a feedback component either written or in direct conversation with the student.

Green says the program is as much about having students diagnose ailments as it is about teaching them effective communication skills.

“The program we’re working with is really a communication program,” Green says.

How do you tell somebody [they] have less than a month to live? How do you communicate that? How do [budding doctors] take our symptoms and relay them to their supervising doctor in a succinct fashion with all the accurate and correct information?”

Green learned about the program from a fellow retiree shortly after her own retirement. It took about a year for her to get into the program, but she has gotten more patient work as the program has grown.

Green has had about 20 roles, with ailments ranging from cancer to knee problems. Once, she played her part on the phone as a grandmother calling about a 1-month-old grandchild who was ill.

Green says one of her most interesting experiences came when medical students had to decide whether their standardized patients—they varied by age, sex, and race—required an AIDS test.

“They did it to see where the prejudices already exist, and it was really interesting. They pegged me, a White, middle-aged widow, as not needing the test at all, but that wasn’t the actual case. I was one of the patients who was supposed to have AIDS, but they didn’t ask me the right questions to guess that.”

As a standardized patient, Green is molding the next generation of health care professionals, and she loves the opportunity to take such an active role in advancing the effectiveness of the medical community.

“It really is fascinating, gratifying, and another opportunity to work with students,” she says.

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