Media Release

18/03/2014
Volunteers needed
James Cook University is seeking volunteers to help its students learn to become better doctors, vets and pharmacists.

James Cook University is seeking volunteers to help its students learn to become better doctors, vets and pharmacists.

The School of Medicine and Dentistry is looking for volunteers between the ages of 18-45 to join its Volunteer Simulated Patient (VSP) program.

Volunteers interact with JCU medical, vet and pharmacy students in simulated clinical environments that aim to develop students’ communication and assessment skills.

For example, a young volunteer for the medical program may be asked to play the role of an exhausted student before university exams, while a volunteer for the vet program may act as a distressed pet owner.

Students will assess all facets of the case being presented and act in an appropriate clinical manner.

Darlene Wallace, senior lecturer in clinical skills, said students learn most effectively in simulated environments when the ‘patient’ is within 5-10 years of the role they play.

“To play the role of a young mum, or someone seeking contraception, requires a young person,” Ms Wallace said. “This allows us to create more diverse scenarios and presentations of patients.”

The VSP program currently has around 100 volunteers and is looking to increase the diversity of participants by recruiting young people and people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Ms Wallace said it was important for students to feel comfortable interviewing people their own age.

“Getting experience in interviewing different age groups is a huge benefit to the students. Often it is more difficult to ask questions of a peer,” she said.

Volunteers may participate in workshops that teach students how to perform procedures, such as vital signs, or in musculoskeletal assessments, where they are asked to move their arms, legs and spine in a certain way.

They may simply interact as themselves, so students can practise communication and history-taking skills.

The volunteers give feedback to the students about their use of language, what they did well and what could be improved.

Training for the program and experience in providing constructive feedback is provided by the clinical skills team.

“Volunteer work such as this is impressive on a CV, especially for a first job,” Ms Wallace said. “And although volunteering is unpaid, there is payment for role-playing during assessment.”

Hours for volunteering are flexible and volunteers can sign up for sessions that appeal to their interests and suit their schedules. At no time are intimate examinations conducted.

For more information about the Volunteer Simulated Patient program or to register as a volunteer, please contact Program Coordinator Kathy Pratt at medvolunteers@jcu.edu.au or (07) 4781 4558.

Issued: March 18, 2014