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Utah doctors find unique way to connect with teenage patients

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Apr 24th, 2013 @ 10:18pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — One of the greatest challenges pediatricians face is connecting with teenage patients and some Utah doctors have found a unique way to learn how to better serve this demographic.

Before school starts on two Monday mornings a month, students at the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts step into a very serious acting assignment.

Dr. Joni Hemond spent about a month with the student, giving them medical scenarios for which they developed the storylines. Hemond asked them to create characters, nothing like themselves, with drug, depression or teen pregnancy issues.

"My character is Amber Valentine and I am a junior and I go to high school," said Chamberlain Schultz, junior at Salt Lake School. "I am suffering from depression and I'm suicidal."

The students then would go through a simulated clinic visit with the doctors, playing the characters that they created.

"My character is on her phone a lot, and that is very hard for the residents to deal with because it's such a new thing," said Chloe Betts, sophomore at SL School.

Nora Switchenko, a pediatric resident at the University of Utah, says she had some excellent actors who gave her a hard time.

"(They) didn't give me a lot of information, but it was a great experience to think about how I would act in that situation as a true pediatrician," Switchenko said.

After the clinic visits, the teens critiqued the doctors. The feedback was both negative and positive.

"We get to say, this is what actually made me uncomfortable, and if you did that with me in an actual appointment, I might not respond so well," said Anna Bodily, sophomore at the high school.

Dr. Jim Gottlieb, pediatric resident at the U. who participates in the artificial clinic visits, says the teens honesty was very helpful.

"Because the real patient is not going to be honest with us," Gottlieb said. "But we want to make that conversation as comfortable and as informational as it can be."

Hemond agrees that the information gleaned from these training exercises is invaluable.

"The teens, as usual, they always bring it, in terms of their acting abilities and their really interesting characters and their great feedback, because I think that they did a really good job of giving feedback today," Hemond said.

Gabriel Lisonbee, a junior at the high school, says he enjoys being a part of this experiment.

"I really like helping people and honesty being part of this, it's a great way to use my acting skills for a really good reason," Lisonbee said.

The students say they enjoy the acting so much, they've volunteered to help the doctors with this training even after the school year ends.


Carole Mikita

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