Health Science Center, VA extend contract to instruct physicians

Agreement builds on partnership to train gynecological teaching associates in the Clinical Learning Resource Center
October 11, 2019

The Texas A&M University Health Science Center’s Clinical Learning Resource Center (CLRC) recently secured a five-year contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help instruct and certify VA providers in women’s health. The recent agreement builds on a partnership that was established more than three years ago. After growing steadily over that time, the VA made the decision to extend the contract to the five-year agreement.

The CLRC has a standardized patient (SP) program that provides students with opportunities to develop their clinical skills. Standardized patients are generally healthy individuals carefully chosen and trained to portray patients with specific medical conditions and include individuals from infancy to retirement.

Within the SP program a specialized program exists, the teaching associate (TA) program. These highly trained individuals teach the most effective ways to perform physical examination skills, as well as how to make the process as comfortable as possible for the patient. It also provides students with tools for empowering and educating their patients in ways not previously available.

Using their own bodies, special types of TAs called gynecologic teaching associates (GTAs) teach the entire well-woman exam, including breast and pelvic examination.

“The VA reached out to us with the exciting news that they had secured funding to improve the health care of our women veterans and wanted to reinstruct providers from the beginning,” said Chelsea Knutson, MSN, RN, the assistant director of the CLRC. “GTAs teach these concepts from the ground up to reframe how we think about these examinations. We discuss the big things like speculum insertion, but also things that may seem small, but really do matter, such as verbiage. Think about this: bed, sheet, stirrup—these are much less professional than exam table, drape and foot rest. There is a difference, and it matters.”

The use of GTAs provides a better system than using untrained volunteers as the models for a clinical instructor to perform the exams and train individuals. Using GTAs helps maximize the providers’ time, and it ensures that all of them are taught a single, standardized way of performing an exam that is evidence-based.

The detailed information and feedback provided by the GTAs allows providers to approach exams in an entirely new way. Providers are not just trying to find “what’s wrong,” but instead the intricacies of the feedback from these specialized instructors allows providers to learn how to teach patients about their own bodies and to encourage two-way communication and a partnership between patient and provider.

“I could go on and on about why this is important,” Knutson said. “Our women veterans deserve health care that is patient-centered and empowering. This partnership is fostering that change one speculum at a time.”

— Tim Schnettler