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Acad Med. 2003 May;78(5):538-45.

Is virtual the same as real? Medical students' experiences of a virtual patient.

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Monash Institute of Health Services Research, Monash University, Clayton Victoria, Australia.



Narrative and problem-solving versions of the same virtual patient's case were created for teaching communication skills to medical students. This qualitative study explored how students experienced the virtual patient.


In 1998-1999 in-depth, free-form interviews and follow-ups were conducted with 12 third-year medical students at Monash University in Australia. Students were asked about their experiences with the virtual patient. The interviews were qualitatively analyzed using psychological phenomenology.


Results were in the form of a description of the students' lived experiences with the virtual patient. Findings indicated that students responded to the virtual patient as if she were real but they felt a simultaneous sense of prefabrication, which often led to frustration. Students' experiences of both versions were similar, but the narrative version permitted better rapport with the virtual patient.


This phenomenological study indicated that a constructed, computer-based virtual patient can have substantial emotional effects on medical students.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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