OPDF spotlight: creating “virtual patient” modules for the health care professions

The selection committee for the Online Program Development Fund awarded funds to nine proposals in the 2011-12 round. BCcampus interviewed the lead proponents of some of the successful projects, and we are spotlighting those projects here in the next few weeks. Here is the second installment: Virtual Patient Modules.

How do educators in the varied health care disciplines train a growing number of practitioners to care for British Columbians in aboriginal communites – each with their unique historical, cultural and societal sensitivities? That’s where the Online Program Development Fund has helped, by funding (in the coming year) the development of interactive virtual patient modules to be used in online and face-to-face instruction for a variety of health professions.

Dr Gurdeep Parhar from the University of B.C. Faculty of Medicine explained: “Our project is meant to create virtual patient cases to teach students health professionals about the issues around aboriginal health. We want our students to understand that the aboriginal population has significant but specialized needs.”

The best way to do this is to submerge students – at least for a time – in the culture, and to that end the Faculty of Medicine has traditionally sent students out to aboriginal communities. However, health care programs have expanded. There were 288 medical students this year, making UBC the biggest faculty in Canada, and that’s just medical doctors. There are also students in nursing, physical therapy and other health care practices who need intercultural training. Dr. Parhar told BCcampus in a recent Skype interview there just aren’t enough places to send students.

The virtual patient modules are designed to address that need. The successful OPDF application includes the nursing programs at British Columbia Institute of Technology and Thompson Rivers University, medicine at University of Northern British Columbia, UBC Health Professions: physical therapy, occupational therapy, the Centre for Health Education Scholarship and the B.C. Nurses’ Union Aboriginal Leadership Circle.

“The cases will be written in such a way they can be applied to midwifery, pharmacy, dentistry and other programs that may not have been initially used,” explained Dr. Parhar. “They are not designed as stand-alone courses but as modules. The needs of each program and discipline are different, so flexibility is key. Therefore these modules will work well in a blended online/face-to-face learning environment.”

In the clip below, Dr. Parhar explains the importance of the OPDF in fostering collaboration in developing the modules.

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