Teaching with patients to care for patients

Posted on Thursday, February 20, 2020

A female patient speaks with a doctor

“It’s a pleasure to work with young people studying medicine... Seeing their determination and the results they achieve makes me feel extremely good.”

— Robert Vadeboncoeur, simulated patient

By Dr. Isabelle Burnier
Head of the Patients impliqués dans l’éducation des professionnels de la santé training program 

Medical students learn their profession through theoretical knowledge and clinical instruction, but most of all, they learn through patients.  For a long time, patients were considered passive in the teaching hospital milieu. More recently, developments in medical education show that patients can play an active role in teaching, whether through simulations or patient-partner programs.  

The Patients impliqués dans l’éducation des professionnels de la santé (PIEPS) program was developed by the Office of Francophone Affairs of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine to involve people in medical education who are neither health care professionals nor PhDs in pedagogy, but who play the role of patients during educational activities. 

“One of the major advantages of the French-language MD program at the University of Ottawa are these clinical simulations, where students are able to interact with simulated patients in different situations,” says Jérémie Thibault, a second-year medical student.  “These experiences allow us to have feedback from doctors, but especially from simulated patients, to hone our doctor-patient relationships, giving us a leg up when we begin our clerkships.”

"It improves my confidence in a clinical setting," agrees medical student Katherine McGuire. 

There are currently three branches of the PIEPS program: simulated patients, standardized patients and patient partners. Simulated and standardized patients are people who play the role of a person with an illness described in a script — whether in a course where clinical skills are taught (simulated patients) or as part of certification examinations (standardized patients). 

Patient partners, by contrast, are people with real health problems, who speak to students about their experiences of illness to sensitize students to the issue. 

“It’s a pleasure to work with young people studying medicine. I play my role of ‘patient’ by being a good actor, to be as credible as possible,” says simulated patient Robert Vadeboncoeur. “I really think I’m making a difference in their learning.  Following them year after year and seeing their determination and the results they achieve makes me feel extremely good.” 

Achieving a real educational impact in a university or college setting requires training. The program has therefore created training workshops for simulated patients and patient partners, for the French-language MD stream.

Although uOttawa students in the English-language MD stream also work with simulated patients as part of their education, these patients do not have PIEPS training, which is currently only offered in French.However, the University hopes to offer PIEPS training to English-speaking patients in the near future. 

The Ottawa Exam Centre offers special training to standardized patients in both English and French.

“I’ve attended and participated in PIEPS training sessions with enthusiasm,” says simulated patient Gladys Rocque.  “This training has helped me, among other things, to improve the way I give feedback about my experiences after my sessions with the future doctors.” 

The PIEPS program is not restricted to medical training. Other health care professions, like rehabilitation science, nutrition and nursing, also use simulated patients in their teaching activities. The vision of the PIEPS program is to enable all of these disciplines to recruit patients who have received PIEPS training 

The Office of Francophone Affairs, which manages the training, and the Ottawa Exam Centre, which coordinates the simulated and standardized patients for all disciplines, have signed a partnership agreement to further the recruitment of patients who have taken the training. 

Teaching with patients to care for patients: that is our vow for 2020. 

Medical student Katherine McGuire conducts a visual test on a patient

Medical student Katherine McGuire conducts a visual test on simulated patient Valéry de Massia


Dr. Melissa Forgie, Robert Vadeboncoeur and Dean Bernard Jasmin stand in a row in front of a Faculty of Medicine banner, as Mr. Vadeboncoeur holds a certificate

Robert Vadeboncoeur (centre) receives the 2019 simulated patient award from Dr. Bernard Jasmin, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (right) and Dr. Melissa Forgie, Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education (left).


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