"Practice patients" teach new doctors

Let's face it--most patients would rather be just about anywhere else than their doctor's office, undergoing an awkward examination. But there's one group of people who do it every day, serving as so-called "practice patients" for medical students. These practice patients agree to face pelvic and breast exams, pretend to have dizzy spells, cancer and drug addiction and more so that the students can move "from a place of fear and anxiety to a place of ease and success," says one such patient, Kat Wentworth.

Wentworth actually runs a business supplying male and female practice patients for the most embarrassing and uncomfortable of exams, including genital, rectal and breast exams. The business has grown after a medical education rule changed in 2004, requiring that physicians pass a clinical skills exam to get a U.S. medical license.

In most cases, students know the patients are fake, but still must review an extensive medical history and go through standard procedures. However, the situation allows them to stop and re-trace their steps if they make a mistake, something which they can't do in real life. And the practice patients offer the feedback, and practical, physical guidance, that real-life patients can't. Many schools pay $14 to $25/hour for such work, but for difficult procedures like the ones Wentworth endures, she and her crew get considerably more.

For more information on practice patients:
- read this Associated Press piece

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