Not a Clinician

My heart rate increases, and I feel color coming into my neck and cheeks. I’m not a clinician: I say this phrase inside my head as I take a deep breath, trying to slow my heart, which feels like it might beat out of my chest. 

Then I say—this time out loud, to the person sitting across the exam table from me—“I’m not a clinician,” before continuing with, “… but on your physical exam I noticed something out of the ordinary, and I’d like to have one of our physicians take a look at you.” I wait and smile my warmest, most empathetic smile.

Even though I’m not a clinician, I am trained in physical exam and communication skills. I have made a life out of training simulated patients in these skills as a simulation educator. So, during those rare interactions when I discover an actual symptom during a training session, I know the person receiving that news may be startled, scared, or even terrified. I have to say this to my simulated patient, a professional portraying someone else’s symptoms to further the education of our health-care students.

If my simulated patient seems calm and ready to hear what I have to say next, I move on. “I want you to know that finding something like this during training occasionally happens. Because I’m not a clinician, I’d like you to see someone who is as soon as possible.  I’d hate for you to worry.” 

That sometimes elicits a sigh of relief or a nervous giggle or a blank stare. “If it’s all right with you,” I continue, I’ll see if one of our faculty is available to take a look at you now.” If need be, I find someone to sit with them in the tiny simulated exam room until I can find a faculty member.

I can’t tell you about the kinds of symptoms I’ve found, because simulation educators abide by a strict code of ethics. And because I’m not a clinician.

Kerensa Peterson
Chicago, Illinois

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Comments

2 thoughts on “Not a Clinician”

  1. Hi Kerensa – Thank you for posting this. It points out the important work that human simulation educators can perform in the course of their work, i.e. attending to the health of the people they are training. Many of the simulated patients are middle-aged and elderly (and many are younger too) so we have to care about their health because the work they must perform, simulating illness, is so taxing. It doesn’t take a clinician, as you suggest, to be able to communicate what we are seeing, what we are concerned about. It’s about caring.

    1. Kerensa Peterson

      Hi Tony – Yes, the reason I have experienced those intense feelings when needing to talk with one of my SPs is because I care so much for their health and well-being. We talk about psychological safety in SP methodology, which is SO important but as you note, we sometimes end up attending to an SP’s physical health, too. Thanks for reading.

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