Week 4: The Control Room

          When the doors to the standardized patient lab opened, I was stunned by the intricacy of its setup. Modeled just like a typical medical office, with a receptionist desk, waiting room, and eight examination rooms, one would likely be fooled by its real purpose. As a group, my classmates and I were given about fifteen minutes to explore the patient lab, the setting in which we will all be tested next Friday. Let me fill you in on what I know so far…

          So what’s a standardized patient lab? Imagine your typical medical examination room, with an examination table, a blood pressure cuff and otoscope hanging on the wall, a scale…etc. Now, just add a couple of video cameras to each of the four walls of the examination room, and you’ve got yourself a standardized patient lab. Next week, I’ll be tested for my Behavioral Medicine class within this patient lab. The PA program hires trained medical patient actors and actresses who literally act as each of our patients for 15-20 minutes. The actor/actress is scheduled for a routine physical exam, and that is the extent of what we have been told. We have been instructed to learn how to take a complete patient history by next Friday. We have also been told to become experts on ovarian and breast cancers, specifically on their pattern of inheritance. I highly suspect that I will be breaking bad news to my ‘patient’ next week, and so it is very important that I am well-informed on the topic. As we take the histories of our patients and subsequently break the difficult news, we are being watched by the professors. One room in the standardized patient lab is reserved for the professors. I like to refer to it as the control room. In this room is a large computer displaying 4 x 4 inch screens of each patient examination room. So, everything I say, every action and movement I make, will be seen by the professors (a bit scary). I have heard some interesting stories from second year students about this experience, so next week’s blog should be fun to write.

          The workload piled high this week, but I am still keeping up with the material. Unlike in my undergraduate studies, now I never feel like I have studied enough before going into an exam. At this level of speed, it is no longer possible to focus on the discrete details of everything; it’s more important to understand the broader concepts (for some classes at least). The good news is that my body has officially adapted to awakening before the crack of dawn. Yesterday I naturally woke up at 4:50 am—10 minutes before my alarm, so I am very proud of that (though I will undoubtedly be sleeping a bit later the next few mornings, so that may mess things up a bit). This week in HEENT we learned how to differentiate between benign and malignant neck masses, in addition to determining the source of an inflamed lymph node. In dermatology we learned how to diagnose and treat various forms of acne, and disorders of the hair, nails, and outer/inner mouth. Summer (the cadaver) is doing well. The two days of dissection this week were spent studying the outer and inner structures of her heart (Summer’s heart was, by far, the largest in the class). We will spend the next couple of weeks dissecting her abdomen. Then, believe it or not, it’s already midterm time!

Question of the week: The left heart valve (also called the bicuspid or left atrioventricular valve) is also referred to as the _________ valve.

Last week’s answer: A cholecystectomy is the surgical removal of a gallbladder.

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