Pelvic exam simulators do medical students a disservice

Learning how to do a pelvic exam can be uncomfortable for medical students doing it for the first time.

There’s a trend in medical schools to use “simulators” and mannequins, rather than model patients, to teach students.

At the University of Minnesota medical school, tabletop anatomical models have largely replaced humans. Although the school denies costs are an issue, the savings are significant — currently it costs $150,000 to hire people to serve as standardized patients. Going with simulators can save several thousand dollars.

But some students are worrying that it can impact their education. And they’re right — no matter how good the simulator is, it cannot replicate an actual person. Especially for men, doing a pelvic exam is more than the procedure itself, but learning how to interact with the female patient from beginning to end:

The initial one-on-one interaction with a patient who’s comfortable with her body is helpful in calming nerves and building confidence, Egan added. “As a guy, at least, there’s a certain amount of anxiety” about conducting a pelvic exam, Egan said, but having a first experience with a woman who has chosen to be a model for medical students “gives you a certain level of comfort.” When he did the pelvic exam as a second-year student, “the patient gave me all sorts of feedback and was really, really helpful.”

There’s no question that medical schools are facing more fiscal pressure than ever before. Already, more gross anatomy labs are substituting “virtual” bodies for cadavers.

Taking away the human element from medical education does our future doctors a disservice.