Playing sick: Theatre 'patients' tended by Health Sciences students

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Theatre student Candice Pryce plays the part of a patient, and receives care from College of Health Sciences students Amanda DeSalvo, left, and Lauren Glassman.
Sabrina Ali plays the part of a patient receiving care from students, from left, Devon Moser, Emma Rinedoller and Dan Singles.


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8:13 a.m., Nov. 23, 2009----The University of Delaware's newest collaborative effort on campus brings together strange bedfellows -- the departments of Theatre and Physical Therapy and the School of Nursing.

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Undergraduate theatre students are becoming standardized patients, healthy lay people who are trained to portray a patient with a particular condition.

“We typically use mannequins for simulation,” said Amy Cowperthwait, a School of Nursing laboratory coordinator, “but those mannequins are not able to communicate or portray the verbal or neurologic status of a patient.”

Standardized patients are trained to present not just the health history of a patient but also demonstrate the body language, emotions, personality, and relevant physical findings. The realistic interactions provide student healthcare workers with real-time feedback in an environment free of consequences.

“As much as we can practice on each other, nobody can do what they did, nobody can pretend like that,” said Meredith Link, a physical therapy graduate student.

Link is among the group of physical therapy and nursing students who practiced their healthcare delivery skills on the standardized patients during a two-week session this month.

The standardized patient theatre students portrayed patients with head or spinal cord injuries. Part of their training involved observing similar patients at the University of Delaware Neurologic and Older Adult Physical Therapy Clinic on campus and at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and at Christiana Care's Wilmington Hospital.

“This is an opportunity to study the real patients over a period of time and then enact it in a real situation, not on the stage, with real people,” said Allan Carlsen, supplemental faculty in the Department of Theatre. “The actors have the challenge of maintaining the character and the integrity of the role that they're playing.”

The standardized patient model is used by medical schools nationwide, but rarely in undergraduate programs, and almost never with the help of a college's theatre department.

The collaboration is one of the first of its kind integrating departments whose talents are valuable to one another but who rarely cross paths.

The varied students and faculty involved said they believe the experience will propel their skills forward, resulting in better performances both on and off the stage.

Article by Andrea Boyle
Photos by Ambre Alexander