Simucase allows graduate students to practice with virtual patients

Graduate students studying communication sciences and disorders gain early clinical experience with simulated clinical scenarios offered through a specialized web-based program, which prepares them for true experiences as graduate clinicians. 

Simucase is an online program that allows students to practice with virtual patients presented through avatars or videos. The cases are based on ones suggested by practicing speech-language pathologists and incorporate various types of data including assessment reports and interviews with family members and other professionals. 

“What this program does is provide graduate students with guided learning on simulated cases before working with real patients,” said Anne Marie Kubat, director of the Speech and Language Clinic and assistant teaching professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State incorporates Simucase into various courses. Each case is initially presented by a faculty member who is a certified speech-language pathologist. The graduate students then utilize the online program on their own time to sharpen various skills, including clinical report writing, using formal assessment tools, diagnosing communication problems, and communicating with case collaborators, such as teachers, parents and social workers in pre-determined scenarios. 

Because the cases are of such high quality and the activity is overseen by certified speech-language pathologists, students can acquire clinical hours, a requirement of the graduate program. Traditionally, first-year graduate students do not gain clinical experience until the second semester, and working on simulated clinical scenarios allows those students to start earning clinical hours sooner. 

“Gaining clinical experience earlier in students’ academic careers makes such a huge difference,” Kubat said. “The experience helps students build confidence and it helps them build their clinical skills earlier, so when they eventually have real clients and a full case load they will be better prepared.”

Nicole Etter, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, teaches two graduate courses: Neuromotor Speech Disorders, CSD 545; and Voice and Voice Disorders, CSD 541. In both courses, Etter works to help students train their ears for recognizing a variety of types of disorders.

“Perceptual evaluations are a crucial part of our training and particularly important, especially when technology is not available, for diagnosing disorders and planning treatment approaches,” Etter said. “Therefore the more experience our students get in listening to speech and voice samples from people of different ages, sex, dialects, cultures, etc., the better prepared they are to start their clinical work. I use Simucase to provide them with more clinical experiences in assessing and developing treatment plans.”

Nicole Broderick, who earned a bachelor of science degree in communication sciences and disorders at Penn State and is now working on her master’s degree here, said the program taught her a number of skills, including how to administer assessment materials during diagnostics with clients, identifying the most appropriate questions to ask a patient, and the importance of carefully reviewing provided documents before talking with the patient to avoid asking questions the patient has already explained. 

“Respecting your patient is a top priority, and you can show this by actually listening to them and showing them that you respect their time and that you are committed to determining their diagnosis through asking and responding to appropriate questions,” Broderick said.

To learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State, visit: http://csd.hhd.psu.edu/.