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J Surg Educ. 2013 May-Jun;70(3):394-401. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2012.12.001.

The virtual-patient pilot: testing a new tool for undergraduate surgical education and assessment.

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Department of Surgery, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.



The virtual patient (VP) is a web-based tool that allows students to test their clinical decision-making skills using simulated patients.


Three VP cases were developed using commercially available software to simulate common surgical scenarios. Surgical clerks volunteered to complete VP cases. Upon case completion, an individual performance score (IPS, 0-100) was generated and a 16-item survey was administered. Surgery shelf exam scores of clerks who completed VP cases were compared with a cohort of students who did not have exposure to VP cases. Descriptive statistics were performed to characterize survey results and mean IPS.


Surgical clerks felt that the VP platform was simple to use, and both the content and images were well presented. They also felt that VPs enhanced learning and were helpful in understanding surgical concepts. Mean IPS at conclusion of the surgery clerkship was 69.2 (SD 26.5). Mean performance on the surgery shelf exam for the student cohort who had exposure to VPs was 86.5 (SD 7.4), whereas mean performance for the unexposed student cohort was 83.5 (SD 9).


The VP platform represents a new educational tool that allows surgical clerks to direct case progression and receive feedback regarding clinical-management decisions. Its use as an assessment tool will require further validation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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