Meredith Flatt is a Standardized Patient and Gynecological Teaching Associate at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She has a bachelor’s degree in Dance Education and teaches dance at a private studio in Virginia Beach. In addition, having been inspired by her work at EVMS, she is currently preparing to apply to Physician’s Assistant programs.
This reflective piece regarding her work in this field was posted on her personal blog and noticed by an ASPE member. It was not solicited by ASPENEWS, but has been reproduced here in its entirety with her permission.
By Meredith Flatt
I was recently hired by the Eastern Virginia Medical School to work as a gynecological teaching associate (GTA): I teach medical students how to conduct perlvic and breast exams on me. If you’ve never heard of standardized patients, then allow me to elaborate. An SP is an educator who is trained to simulate a patient with an illness or injury. Medical students, nurses, PAs, or other medical care providers in training administer proper medical examinations, and/or corrective or preventative procedures on the “patient.” This gives the trainee hands-on experience. People absorb 90% more information via hands-on learning techniques. Thus, volunteering my body is substantially increasing the success of future physicians.
When I tell people what I’m doing, they usually have one of three reactions:
1) They laugh and make fun, because it makes them feel awkward.
2) They act disgusted.
3) They simply worry about my well-being.
All reactions are perfectly acceptable. If I weren’t doing this myself, I’d probably think differently about those who do. Let’s face it: it’s invasive and there’s really no room for modesty. Plain and simple – it’s awkward.
Until a few days ago, I still wasn’t sure I really knew what I was getting myself into. Then, I was required to practice instructing a clinical breast exam. My partner, who was also in training, was a 72 year-old breast cancer survivor. She had undergone a mastectomy of her right breast several years ago and had opted out of reconstruction. We also had an experienced GTA in the room with us, who corrected us during practice. My partner, who seemed nervous, asked if I would act as the patient first, since I had more training than she had at this point. I took a deep breath and said “Absolutely!”
What can I say? I’m from the South and thus obligated to be polite to my elders.
Lowering my gown and presenting myself to strangers was a tad scary, but I managed and got through the scripted procedures with ease. Turns out, my teaching skills came in mighty handy. It’s extremely intense, and I’m very grateful for taking Kinesiology at Winthrop. At least I sort of have a basic understanding of the human anatomy.
The intimidating part was acting as the student and performing the exam on my partner. I’d never seen an older person’s breasts before and I didn’t know what to expect or how I’d react, but I knew I had to be professional and get the job done correctly and as compassionately as possible. I palpated her lymph nodes, her breast from the tail to the inframammary line using the vertical strip technique, and her nipple. I even administered a manual mammogram – and it wasn’t at all awkward, because during the process I realized why this exam is so important. This woman had already reaped the benefits of annual breast exams. She was alive today because of them.
What I’m doing is extremely important and brave (if I do say so myself). My job at EVMS doesn’t trump my other job as a high school dance teacher, but what I’m doing now fills a void I’ve had for the past several months. I finally feel like I’m making a difference again. My new job – as crazy as it seems – is going to save lives.
How awesome is that? I mean, really?