WCU-Texas MPA Students Bridge Theory and Practice with Simulated Patient Experiences

In preparation for their clinical year of the Master of Physician Assistant program, West Coast University-Texas students put their bedside manner and book smarts to the test in a series of immersive simulations.

Held once a trimester and called “Objective Structured Clinical Examinations” — or OSCE, for short — the tests are a combination of classroom theory and real-life patient care that help hone the MPA students’ ability to diagnose and treat illnesses and communicate effectively.

“The OSCE allows them to pull all of their skills and knowledge together so that before they go out into their clinicals, they’ve actually gone in and learned how to interact with patients,” WCU-Texas MPA Dean Amy Bronson said.

During the OSCE, students confront a patient’s case, complete with a chief complaint and vital signs. The challenges are many: Determine the right questions to ask, perform the necessary physical examinations precisely, and even request diagnostic testing.

“All these things come together to essentially take what is book knowledge and apply it to patient care,” Bronson said.

Critical to this preparation are standardized patients, who follow a script through the scenario and help guide students toward the correct diagnoses. The simulated patients are usually individuals from the community and offer invaluable feedback on students’ performance.

“We have been strategic in having a very diverse group of standardized patients because that also helps our students learn how to take care of and care well for those across the diversity spectrum,” Bronson said.

Besides helping prepare for the clinical year, Bronson said the OSCE also fosters a sense of confidence and competence with WCU students and gives them a head start on being better-equipped healthcare professionals who can more easily navigate the challenges of patient care.

“The fun part is when students come back to campus during the clinical year, and they say, ‘I felt so much more comfortable going in my first day because I’ve done this before,’” Bronson said.

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