Objective: The use of virtual learning in psychiatric education has been required to address COVID-19-related challenges. Research regarding the implementation of virtual teaching environments and standardized patients for simulation remains limited. Here, educators' outcomes were evaluated following a transition from in-person teaching with "real" patients, to a standardized patient-based simulation in pre-clerkship psychiatric clinical skills teaching for medical students.
Methods: The Integrated Clinical Experiences course at the University of Toronto is a pre-clerkship clinical skills curriculum for second-year medical students. Four psychiatric clinical skills sessions were transitioned from in-person teaching to virtual teaching environments with standardized patient-based simulation. Educators (tutors) were assigned to teach groups of four to seven medical students, with a total of 45 groups. Tutors were then asked to complete an online questionnaire, and data was analyzed by quantitative and qualitative means.
Results: Of 30 tutors, 21 (75.0%) had previously taught the course for an average of 6.52 ± 6.85 years. Twenty-four of 30 (80%) tutors described their ease of virtual teaching as "extremely easy" or "moderately easy". Twenty-three of 30 (76.6%) were "extremely satisfied" or "moderately satisfied" with standardized patient-based simulation. Various advantages and disadvantages of the virtual teaching environment with standardized patient-based simulation were identified.
Conclusions: The transition to a virtual teaching environment utilizing standardized patients in a pre-clerkship simulation-based curriculum did not result in significant challenges that would limit educators' use of these teaching tools. Implementation of virtual teaching environments with standardized patients may thus serve to address challenges related to COVID-19 and resource limitations.
Keywords: Curriculum; Medical education; Simulation; Standardized patients; Virtual teaching.