Physiotherapy students can be educated to portray realistic patient roles in simulation: a pragmatic observational study

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Background: Simulation-based education (SBE) has many benefits for learners, but costs can limit embedding SBE in health professional curricula. Peer simulation involves students portraying patient roles, and may reduce costs while still providing the benefits of other SBE experiences. However, the quality of the SBE may be impacted if students cannot portray authentic and realistic patient roles. The aim of this study was to investigate whether targeted education was associated with observable changes to physiotherapy students’ abilities to portray patient roles in SBE. Methods: Second year pre-registration physiotherapy students (n = 40) participated. Students completed online and face-to-face education about SBE, patient portrayal skills, and how to portray a specific patient role. Students were video-recorded portraying patient roles in practical exams before and after the program. Three blinded independent assessors rated the overall quality of portrayals using a purpose-developed assessment instrument. Results: Twenty-three sets of pre- and post-program videos were analysed. Correlations between assessor scores spanned 0.62 to 0.82 for analyses of interest, which justified using average assessor ratings in analysis. Statistically significant higher scores were seen for post-program assessments for overall portrayal scores (mean difference 6.5, 95%CI [1.51–11.45], p = 0.013), accuracy (mean difference 3.4, 95%CI [0.69–6.13], p = 0.016) and quality (mean difference 3.1, 95%CI [0.64–5.49], p = 0.016). Conclusions: Physiotherapy students appear capable of playing realistic patient roles. Peer simulation can be embedded into health professional programs, and education in patient role portrayal appears to be associated with improvements in portrayal quality and realism. Given these findings, further investigation, including testing program effects in a randomised study, is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number471
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2020


  • Peer simulation
  • Physical therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Simulated patient
  • Simulation
  • Simulation-based education
  • Standardized patient

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