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A qualitative study of postgraduate students' perceptions of virtual patients in emergency medicine tutorials

Jacqueline I. Wilson

Centre for Medical Sciences Education, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago

Submitted: 15/01/2012; Accepted: 26/06/2012; Published: 26/06/2012

Int J Med Educ. 2012; 3:115-123; doi: 10.5116/ijme.4fea.1918

© 2012 Jacqueline I. Wilson. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: To investigate students' reactions to introduc-ing virtual patients into a postgraduate emergency medicine curriculum.

Methods: Qualitative data from semi-structured interviews were subjected to a thematic analysis. A convenient sample of seven postgraduate doctors in training enrolled in the diploma program participated in the study.

Results: The results indicate that participants' reactions to including virtual patients in tutorials yielded six themes: (a) Virtual patients are game-informed learning; (b) A virtual patient tutorial is collaborative learning; (c) Virtual patient is an authentic activity; (d) Virtual patients encourage reflection; (e) Virtual patients encourage clinical reasoning; and (f) Integrate virtual patients into the curriculum.

Conclusions: The implication of this study is that the virtual patient is a significant learning resource in postgraduate emergency medicine. Virtual patients may be used for independent study or collaborative learning. The virtual patient tutorial was a positive learning environment free of risk to patients in which learners practiced clinical reasoning. Virtual patients were authentic in context and culture, but their navigation needs improvement. Future work includes exploring alternative virtual patient designs and using virtual patients for assessment.