Dr. Paula L. Stillman

I faced my first obstacle the first day of medical school, and I remember sitting with three men in my class around a cadaver, as part of a gross anatomy course. And one of the men said to me, “You took the place of one of my friends, and because you’re here, he didn’t get into medical school. And this is not a place for women. Women should be home and taking care of the house.” So that was an introduction to medical school. And what I decided after that was that I was going to work very hard and become a very good student, and try to amount to something with my career, so that I wouldn’t feel I was taking anybody’s place but I was there rightfully, on my own. Before we developed the standardized patient concept, the evaluation of clinical skills was very subjective. Students were either good or not good. They would occasionally be observed by an attending physician, but there wasn’t a reproducible, reliable, valid way of assessing these skills and documenting whatever weaknesses existed, and then providing corrective feedback and education to the student. This technique allowed students to be compared to an absolute standard, and to have individualized feedback, and multiple observations by experienced people.

I was motivated to create this method of teaching and evaluating because I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for students and residents to really learn these very critical clinical skills, and not perpetuate mistakes.

I wanted somebody who was knowledgeable to be able to provide immediate feedback to them, and tell them what they did well, what they didn’t do well, and make sure that they did it better the next time. When I went to medical school there were very few career paths that were open to women, and most of the women in my class went into pediatrics because it was very acceptable for us to do that. The other acceptable field at that time was psychiatry. Young women today who go into medicine can do anything. They can be surgeons, they can do whatever they want to do, and they have lots of options, which we didn’t have so many years ago.