From one of the world’s oldest medical schools to one of its youngest, it was a gift of appreciation that spoke volumes across cultures, geographic borders, and languages. 

When Heidi Lane, senior director of evaluation and assessment at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, travelled to Russia recently, little did she know she would return as an honorary professor at one of the country’s largest and most respected medical schools. 

Lane was recognized by Kazan State Medical University for her work in developing a standardized patient program as part of the school’s curriculum. It was the first such program at any Russian medical school. 

Lane, who now oversees the standardized patient program at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been working with her Russian counterparts for the past decade, purely as a labor of love.

“This is truly an honor,” Lane said. “I’m thrilled each time I go to Russia. It’s a lot of work, but I get great joy from doing it.”

A standardized patient is an individual who is trained to act as a real patient in order to simulate a set of symptoms or problems. Medical and nursing education programs employ these “patients” to allow students to hone their clinical skills and bedside manner.

The most recent trip to Russia was Lane’s third since 2003. During a ceremony to celebrate faculty accomplishments and commemorate Kazan State Medical University’s upcoming 200th anniversary, Lane heard her name called to receive a coveted Privatdozent, a European academic title conferred to someone who holds certain formal qualifications that give them the ability to teach independently at the university level. This distinguished honor is one of the top awards for faculty at the university, and few receive it.

The award from Kazan State Medical University states, “For outstanding contributions to the strengthening and development of relations aimed at improving the quality of medical education and training.”

“The fact that the standardized patient program has become part of Kazan State Medical University’s regular curriculum is thrilling,” said Lane. “It’s humbling to think maybe I had a little to do with it.”

Developing the Kazan State Medical University program has had its challenges, one of which was to find enough “patients” with English as their native language. Another was setting up evaluation protocols. Students, most of whom are not familiar with the concept of patient-centered care, are graded on how well they conduct a medical history, their interpersonal and communication skills, and how effectively they complete postexamination reports.

All of the students who participated in the most recent evaluation, under Lane’s supervision, passed the exam.

Located in the Kazan Russian Federation, Kazan State Medical University is one of Russia’s most famous and most respected centers of medical education, science, and culture. The school has more than 5,000 students, interns, and residents as well as well as dozens of academic and clinical departments, ranging from general medicine and pediatrics to nursing, dentistry, and social work.

Three of Lane’s colleagues from the School of Medicine were also in attendance, including Dr. Cynda Johnson, founding dean; Dr. Bruce Johnson, associate dean for faculty affairs; and Beth Ipock, director of quality assurance for the standardized patient program.

“We couldn’t be more honored by this award or more proud of the exceptional standardized patient program that Heidi has developed,” said Johnson. “We look forward to many more years of this mutually beneficial partnership.”

Written by Catherine Doss.

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