Introduction to the Project

The Preservice Health Training Project was developed out of a need to train healthcare workers to be responsive to the needs of persons with developmental disabilities. In designing the project, a team consisting of physicians, experts in disabilities, parents, individuals with disabilities, and technical experts identified a series of core objectives, which based on both the medical education literature and personal experience, seemed to be those things that physicians most needed to know about such patients. We have also considered the critical communication objectives for medical school students as outlined in such documents as the report on Communication in Medicine (1999) by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Our project has been designed around two main goals:

  • First, to impart substantive knowledge to students regarding developmental disabilities, common characteristics and secondary conditions of persons with developmental disabilities, and ways in which to most professionally treat such individuals in a clinical setting.
  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, to allow students to become familiar with interacting with persons with developmental disabilities in a simulated, though realistic, format.

Module Components

Several items are included with the modules. First is a section of supplemental material. This includes general background material on developmental disabilities (e.g., types of developmental disabilities, person-first language, etc.). The supplemental material also includes specific information for each of the two virtual patient cases (an adult with cerebral palsy, a child with autism) in which you will have the option of participating. Multiple choice questions are included for the supplemental material as an optional review exercise for students.

The video section (virtual patient interview) represents the core of the module. Each virtual patient interview includes a series of video clips; at the end of each video clip, the student is asked to respond to a "decision point" about how best to proceed with the interview. Interspersed with the videotaped interactions of patient and physician are additional information points. At the conclusion of the video sections are remarks by the virtual patient actors (themselves individuals with developmental disabilities and family members) about their personal experiences with physicians.

The modules include a diagnostic tool, which we refer to as the Disability Situations Inventory (DSI). The purpose of the DSI is to gauge the degree to which the physician feels comfortable in performing routine examination procedures for patients with a variety of developmental disabilities. The DSI will be given as both a pre-test and a post-test in order to gauge the effectiveness of our modules in familiarizing medical students with persons with disabilities.

The modules also contain an Instructor's Manual with several suggestions for further activities. Among these activities are two additional case studies with discussion questions. Two contemporary issues are also included to generate further classroom discussion. A series of possible paper topics are suggested, as well as the framework for a sub-specialty interview.


Association of American Medical Colleges. 1999. Report III: Contemporary Issues in Medicine: Communication in Medicine. Medical School Objectives Project.