Personnel Image

Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

20 May 2022

Related Study Areas

How can a retiree's love of theatrics help train our future doctors?

When Lance Laverty comes to campus with his container of creamed corn and peach ‘vomit’, you know a medical student is about to receive an unforgettable lesson. It’s all in the name of clinical skills teaching in our JCU Medicine program, with Lance and over 150 other community members playing a vital role as Volunteer Simulated Patients.

The volunteers in the program provide JCU medical students with an authentic clinical skills learning experience, roleplaying real-life scenarios to prepare them for their future careers. It allows students to interact with people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, health conditions and life experiences in a safe teaching environment. It also provides volunteers with an opportunity to contribute to the education of our future doctors while getting active and social in their local community.

Lance, a retired medical engineer, has been part of the volunteer program for over five years. He’s well known for his dedication to authentic roleplaying, with his fake vomit and other ‘tricks’, like rushing out of a consult to use the bathroom, aimed at driving home the effects of certain conditions.

“It definitely makes it more realistic. I’ve been involved at the hospital for many years, and I know what it can be like. Making things visual and interactive prepares students for what could actually happen when they become doctors,” Lance says.

As much fun as Lance might have, he’s still very clear about what he loves most about volunteering with the College.

VSPs and JCU Staff in Cairns
Finley and VSP in Townsville
Left: VSP Lance Laverty (Centre right) with other VSPs and JCU Clinical Skills teaching staff. Right: JCU MBBS3 student Finley Prentis in a Motivation Interviews session with a VSP

Why volunteers and students love the VSP Program

“My favourite thing is coming here and helping the kids, that’s what it’s all about for me. It’s great when you get to see former students you met through the program working at the hospital as interns. You see the benefit of the fruits you're helping to grow,” Lance says.

Fellow volunteer, Ivor, adds what he loves most about being a VSP since 2019 and why other members of the community should consider getting involved:

“It’s such a tremendous privilege to be part of a medical student’s journey. One of the beautiful things about volunteering with JCU is that you really get the sense you are very highly respected. You’re treated like a VIP and you can feel that you’re contributing to something important. And I would add, it’s such a therapy for retirees!” Ivor says.

Third-year medical student Finley Prentis interacts with the VSPs through sessions like Motivational Interviews and history taking. He explained what he gets out of the volunteers’ involvement in his education:

“It's just a really good opportunity to refine our clinical skills, but also it's just a good opportunity to practise a skill that's new to us with faces we haven't seen before, who are still super friendly. They're very encouraging. They're very relaxed. They always make us feel welcome. Sometimes they'll crack a joke just so you’re a bit more comfortable and it just helps you practise real-world clinical skills,” Finley says.

It’s a sentiment you’ll find echoed by current and former students alike. Feedback from students on the VSP program highlights both the clinical skills gained and the fun and memorable interactions. Neha Ramesh says the friendliness of the VSPs is a standout. She shared one of her favourite memories of a volunteer who helped her through the daunting process of an MSAT practical exam:

“My friend and I were debating on a particular practice to do. It was actually the patient who walked us through the entire procedure, which is kind of funny because they've got so much experience working with students over so many years that they now pretty much know everything we need to know!” Neha says.

JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry Dean Prof Sarah Larkins says the VSPs provide an extremely valuable learning experience for students, both through their roleplaying and the feedback they provide in the post-teaching sessions.

“Our volunteers are a bunch of extremely altruistic people. They are community-minded and they feel passionate about being part of training the next generation of health professionals.

“From the JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry, I would like to express our sincerest thanks to all the volunteers who give of their time selflessly to help educate the next generation of health professionals for North Queensland. I have no doubt that the clinical and communication skills of our graduates are highly regarded not least because of the efforts of our volunteers,” Prof Larkins says.

Townsville VSP and students
Townsville VSPs and Dee Cassidy from JCU
Left: VSP John with JCU students and staff in a skin examination session. Right: VSPs Ray and Carol Breckenridge with JCU Clinical Skills Lecturer Dee Cassidy

Other ways you can help shape our future medical workforce

Another important way volunteers contribute to the JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry is on our medicine selection panels. This involvement of volunteers from our regional communities is part of JCU’s commitment to selecting students who are from regional, rural and Indigenous communities or have an interest in ‘going rural’.

Prof Sarah Larkins says the fact that one in three of the selection panel is a community member reflects the importance JCU places on their participation and partnership.

“We’ve always benefited from strong community backing. Because we're particularly trying to produce health professionals for the North, the North has always been behind us in terms of advancing that aim and they are a key part of selecting future medical students,” Prof Larkins says.

“There are people from all around our regions, from a wide range of backgrounds and motivations who have been involved in this process for years. It’s all about ensuring a diverse range of students, who perhaps might not otherwise have had the opportunity, to come to JCU to study medicine."

In 2021, 335 volunteer interviewers and 77 volunteer Zoom masters helped us with the interview process for 881 domestic applicants for the 2022 JCU Medicine intake.

The results of this approach speak for themselves, with JCU renowned as Australia’s most successful university in producing medical graduates who go on to serve regional and rural communities.

We are actively looking for community members to join our Volunteer Simulated Patient program. You can also be involved in the training process of training our future doctors through our Medicine Selection panel and bequest program. Find out more about how you can get involved with the College of Medicine and Dentistry.

Discover Medicine at JCU

Make an impact on the health care of people living in regional, rural and remote communities of Queensland.