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Open Access Research article

The impact of trained patient educators on musculoskeletal clinical skills attainment in pre-clerkship medical students

Anna E Oswald1*, Mary J Bell2, Jeffrey Wiseman3 and Linda Snell3

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

2 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Centre for Medical Education and Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:65  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-65

Published: 23 September 2011



Despite the high burden of musculoskeletal (MSK) diseases, few generalists are comfortable teaching MSK physical examination (PE) skills. Patient Partners® in Arthritis (PP®IA) is a standardized patient educator program that could potentially supplement current MSK PE teaching. This study aims to determine if differences exist in MSK PE skills between non-MSK specialist physician and PP®IA taught students.


Pre-clerkship medical students attended 2-hour small group MSK PE teaching by either non-MSK specialist physician tutors or by PP®IA. All students underwent an MSK OSCE and completed retrospective pre-post questionnaires regarding comfort with MSK PE and interest in MSK.


83 students completed the OSCE (42 PP®IA, 41 physician taught) and 82 completed the questionnaire (42 PP®IA, 40 physician taught). There were no significant differences between groups in OSCE scores. For all questionnaire items, post-session ratings were significantly higher than pre-session ratings for both groups. In exploratory analysis PP®IA students showed significantly greater improvement in 12 of 22 questions including three of five patient-centred learning questions.


PP®IA MSK PE teaching is as good as non-MSK specialist physician tutor teaching when measured by a five station OSCE and provide an excellent complementary resource to address current deficits in MSK PE teaching.