Angela de Caprariis-Salerno never dreamed of getting accolades for her “OSCE” winning performances. The 77-year-old retired pharmacist turned actor from Garden City has played many intense roles as part of the Observed Structured Clinical Experience, or OSCE, program at NYU Long Island School of Medicine. In her newfound career, de Caprariis-Salerno poses as different standardized patients to help teach medical students.
The OSCE program uses actors to teach aspiring doctors how to listen and be empathetic in various patient care situations. Students have 20 minutes to give actors playing different scenarios a physical exam in the state-of the-art NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island Simulation Center and accurately diagnose their conditions.
“The great thing about this course is that it teaches you to ask practical questions without using medical jargon,” says second-year medical student Anthony Anzano. “You can read about a condition plenty of times in a text book, but when I see a patient who presents in a similar way, I know what to do.”
de Caprariis-Salerno has played everything from a person with alcohol use disorder experiencing withdrawal and seeing cats on the wall to a patient whose surgery has gone wrong. Her latest role was that of a retired teacher who spilled a cup of coffee from her left hand after apparently experiencing a stroke.
“These actors are amazing. You really think you are talking to real patients,” says Jasmine Brite, an aspiring neurosurgeon who gave de Caprariis-Salerno a diagnosis of hemineglect after noticing no reaction on the left side of her face.
Sometimes life imitates art. Fellow actor Ronald Ulrich, a 65-year-old retiree with type 2 diabetes, recently played a patient with diabetic neuropathy. He removed the medic alert bracelet he wears everyday so as not to give medical students any hints.
In other cases, students have identified real-life medical conditions in the actors that they are not aware they have. “A student was surprised to find a lump in the breast of an actor during a routine exam, helping to save the patient by early detection,” says Franny Bavaro, a standardized patient educator at the Simulation Center. “Our students have also detected heart murmurs in actors by actually hearing what they’ve read about in class.”
Actors get paid $28 an hour for a minimum of 2 hours of work, but seniors from the community say they do it for the love of helping students and seeing them thrive. When de Caprariis-Salerno recently reported to the hospital’s geriatric clinic for an actual exam, rather than her usual acting gig, a young doctor she helped train recognized her immediately. “He said, ‘I remember you,’” de Caprariis-Salerno says. “But this is the real thing.’”
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