How Healthcare Providers Can Achieve More Effective Learning and Meet CME Requirements with SPs

by | Apr 25, 2024

When it comes to meeting the CME (continuing medical education) requirements from employers, accreditation boards, and licensing demands, healthcare providers are familiar with the traditional didactic models that are widely available. However, are these traditional methods effective?

Healthcare workers on medical technology

Research shows that lectures and self-directed modules are considerably less effective in changing physician behavior and improving patient care than their interactive model counterparts. Successful interactive models use techniques like hands-on practice, role-play, and active feedback loops. 

Standardized patient (SP) scenarios are designed to meet specific learning objectives and build patient care skills. Educators and participants can meet curricula and continuing education requirements with better learning outcomes. 

Let’s explore how standardized patient scenarios leverage superior learning theories to provide a more effective learning experience for healthcare providers completing CMEs. 

Experiential Learning

The concept of experiential learning (developed by David A Kolb) is an active process with a four-step cycle. Its interactive components make it very flexible and one of the more effective educational models. 

When implemented properly, SP scenarios can demonstrate experiential learning in action with live, virtual sessions and immediate feedback loops. Here’s a closer look at how the cycle works.

1. Experience

The initial step of the learning cycle is the concrete experience. “Experience” is a broad term encompassing many everyday life occurrences in personal, professional, or educational settings. Any experience can jumpstart the learning cycle. 

Providing inclusive care for all types of patients is not a skill taught in traditional curricula and CME offerings. Practitioners who participate in training scenarios with standardized patients are actively stepping into the experiential learning cycle. 

Through SPs, providers can meet CME requirements, tackle learning objectives, and practice patient care in a safe learning environment that is both supportive and challenging. 

2. Reflect

After a new learning experience, reflection naturally begins to challenge preconceived notions, biases, and patterns. These inherent traits influence our thoughts and actions toward others and the world around us. 

A significant benefit of working with live standardized patients through Simclusive is the built-in feedback framework. At the end of the session, the SP is available for an immediate, candid discussion. Our SPs support professional development by identifying strengths, areas for growth, and potential pain points.

3. Conceptualize

Following the reflection and debriefing period with an SP, participants can begin conceptualizing alterations to their practice. This phase is purely a cognitive exercise to explore the newly acquired information and how it might apply to your practice, thought patterns, and behavior. 

Consider all possibilities and how any potential changes can impact your dynamic with patients, their care path, and their health outcomes.

4. Experiment

The “final” phase of the learning cycle involves applying previously conceptualized changes to your practice. Any tweak to your practice–big or small–can significantly impact your patients. 

If you are not ready to apply changes with actual patients, repeat sessions with SPs are the ideal environment for experimenting. This opportunity is especially beneficial when learning about care for unique patient groups with whom practitioners may have limited professional experience. 

Don’t be nervous to make changes! Stumbling with your words, making missteps, and seeking to improve each time are all part of the process and promote more effective learning. Providers can confidently move forward knowing they can provide appropriate, affirming care for patients of all backgrounds. 

And repeat! After experimenting, the cycle repeats itself whenever a new experience phase occurs. Learning is a lifelong commitment, especially in healthcare, due to the frequently shifting landscape and guidelines. 

Watch your skill and confidence in patient care evolve with time, patience, and practice as you progress through cycle repetitions. Repeated variable exposures and reflection can reduce inherent and subconscious biases over time. Bias recognition and reduction is an honorable goal for professionals seeking to provide inclusive, affirming care.

Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) focuses on facilitating effective learning through active engagement, social interaction, and appropriate support for the learner (also known as “scaffolding”). 

It describes the gap between what a person can “independently do” and what they can “potentially do” with the guidance or assistance of a more knowledgeable person. This zone is the ideal learning landscape for skill and knowledge development. Simclusive scenarios target specific learning objectives while remaining within reasonable reach of the learner. 

Guided learning is another core tenant of ZPD. Our highly trained SPs are also skilled educators who provide quality guidance and feedback. They build the scaffolding that supports participants on their journey to deliver informed, inclusive care.

Providers can experience unique patient cases that may infrequently occur in their medical practices. Patients in the LGBTQ+ community require specialized care and careful consideration for their identity, social climate, and health goals. Our scenarios help providers build confidence in care skills, including:

  • Conducting affirming care and cultural humility practices
  • Asking and using pronouns, introducing with your own pronouns
  • Using chosen names whenever possible and safe for the patient
  • Completing trauma-sensitive organ inventories and physicals
  • Recommending cancer screenings based on anatomy
  • Building patient-focused, specialized counseling and treatment plans

Quality Learning with Standardized Patients

Current CME offerings are primarily didactic. In cases of more interactive approaches, many rely on patient actors for scripted scenes or peer-to-peer role-play. Even patient panels are less effective than working with standardized patients. So, why are SPs the superior educational tool?

  • They reflect the genuine experience of the SP.

At Simslusive, we offer scenarios with SPs of diverse backgrounds as part of our efforts to minimize the healthcare gap for marginalized groups. Their authentic, lived experiences drive our scenarios instead of SPs conforming to assigned storylines. 

  • Learners get to practice using a whole-person approach.

The human experience is complex and often challenging. Providers practice delivering quality medical care while considering the complexities of human life, including personal identity, trauma, social context, culture, and so much more. Learners and SPs must learn to act with care and integrity and be aware of risks like re-traumatization and loss of simulation integrity. 

  • The SP is someone you don’t know personally or professionally.

Getting to know patients and building rapport are foundational skills for healthcare providers and are challenging to practice with peers and other people you already know. SPs provide a genuine opportunity to brush up on soft skills and fundamental interpersonal interactions. 

  • Standardized Patients offer quality control and consistency for learners. 

Quality and consistency in education produce more effective learning outcomes. SPs create a structured but flexible experience for all learners without strict standardization or assessments. Our trained SPs engage in conversations with participants without scripts, allowing honest connection and dialogue. They also adhere to Association for Standardized Patient Educators (ASPE) guidelines to ensure that best practices are followed and learning objectives are achieved.

For healthcare providers looking to expand their professional experience while meeting CME requirements, incorporating scenarios with SPs can be an effective approach. Standardized patients create a safe and controlled learning environment that provides opportunities to practice skills, allows for mistakes, and gives quality feedback.

At Simclusive, our scenarios also incorporate diverse patient populations to help learners practice providing inclusive, affirming care alongside applying clinical competencies. Explore our scenario library today!


Renee Wadsworth

Renee Wadsworth is a simulationist specializing in Human Simulation Online, using SPs (standardized patients) to apply & assess important skills in a psychologically safe environment. Renee is currently an SP Education Strategist for SP-ed & Simclusive at Healthcourse, Inc where she is responsible for developing, coordinating, and managing human-to-human simulations for universities, health systems, and professional associations, focused largely on telehealth and inclusive healthcare. Renee was first introduced to the world of medical simulation as an SP in 2013 and quickly gained more involvement with the industry, finding creative ways to expand the use of SPs outside of undergraduate medical education. She is passionate about creating a world where patients feel safe and confident with their care teams.

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