Arts, Health

Acting Like A Real Pain

Martin Edmonds "acting" illWhen someone is studying to become a doctor, he can learn a lot from professors and textbooks. But there are some things he will have to actually experience, in order to learn them.

Like diagnosing a patient, for instance. Figuring out what’s wrong with someone when he comes into the emergency room complaining of a “sore stomach” or a “severe headache.” Those two symptoms could have many different causes—anything from a gas bubble to appendicitis.

If a doctor-in-training practiced on a real patient, it could be very dangerous because he might get the diagnosis wrong and the patient might suffer.

That’s where Martin Edmonds comes in. He’s a Toronto actor who has an interesting side-business. He works as a “standardized patient,” acting out different illnesses so new doctors can diagnose him without fear of anyone being hurt.

Martin Edmonds
Martin Edmonds is fine – he was just acting!

Edmonds is told what illness to act out, and during the exam he’s told how he should act as the doctor examines him. For instance, the doctor may find him doubled up on the hospital bed, groaning and barely able to speak. The doctor has to take that visual information and figure out what’s wrong with him. The doctor will ask questions: “Do you smoke or drink alcohol?” “Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables?” And Edmonds must answer the way a real patient would—someone who actually has the illness.

Edmonds can also “get better.” When the doctor decides what’s wrong with Edmonds, he prescribes some medicine and asks the nurse to give it to the “patient.” If the doctor has made the right decision, Edmonds will be given a secret signal. Then he’ll pretend to take the pill, and act like he feels a bit better. The doctor has gotten the diagnosis right.

But if the doctor has guessed incorrectly, Edmonds will continue to groan and complain of pain, because the medicine hasn’t worked—maybe his condition has even worsened. The doctor will have to try again.

Just like in real-life, the illnesses can be tricky. For instance, someone may come in complaining of stomach pain, when in reality they have a mental illness. Just like in real-life, the doctors who are training have to get to the bottom of the real problem.

Edmonds has lots of fascinating stories about being a standardized patient and he enjoys helping new doctors learn their craft. “It’s something different every time,” he says. “It’s interesting work.


Writing/Discussion Prompt
People learn in many different ways.  Some ways people learn new information is by reading books, seeing an idea in a picture, or using music. This article explains that one way that doctors learn to diagnose and treat a patient is by treating fake patients who are only pretending to be sick.  This type of learning would work well for people who like to use drama to learn.

How do you learn best?  How do you use this way to learn new information?

Reading Prompt
In this article, there are several challenging words, such as: diagnosing, appendicitis and standardized.
Underline all of the words that are unfamiliar or uncertain.  Try to sound out these words and then look up their meanings in a dictionary or on the Internet.

predict the meaning of and quickly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues (OME, Reading: 3.2)

predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues (OME, Reading: 3.2)

Grammar Feature: Scare Quotes
Quotation marks are generally used around something a person said.  For example: Henry said, “Pass the salt.”  However, in this article, quotation marks are sometimes used around one or two words at a time.  These are not to show what someone said.  Instead, they are used to draw the reader’s attention to these words and sometimes they are used because the word is used in an unusual way. These types of quotation marks are called scare quotes.

Identify all of the scare quotes in the article and discuss why the author may have written in this way.