National flavor of virtual patients – beer gardens, names that are difficult to pronounce and unknown dishes

by Małgorzata Sudacka and Anja Mayer

“Medicine is an art.” Even if you know this saying, you do not necessarily think of it this way. Because should it mean that we, as health professionals, are artists? The more years of experience in practicing medicine I have, the more true it is for me and the more I feel like an artist.

Our international collaboration on creating virtual patients collection in the iCoViP project confirms this proposition even more. After having created a variety of virtual patients, we are now in the process of translating these into our partner languages (French, Polish, German, Portugues, and Spanish) and we came across the question whether besides the language, the “local flavor” of a case should be translated as well. Therefore, in our  latest regular meeting we focused on this discussion including whether we should change the place of an encounter, the name of the patient, or aspects of the history, such as a patient eating a local portugues dish before experiencing a heart attack.   

On one hand, doing this makes a virtual patient more familiar to students and circumvents the need for pronouncing difficult names or understanding local specialities. On the other hand, this is where artism happens. Even if we have international guidelines for diagnosis and treatment,which we follow, we can have different possibilities, resources, and traditions, and so, like artists, we are interpreting them, sometimes in different ways. If we change the place where the story is happening during translation, we will end up changing more aspects as they sometimes are handled differently. That is why – after an intense discussion – we decided not to change any local aspect of a case, but leave them as they are. 

The presence of country-specific features will broaden students’ horizons, allowing them to learn about foreign cultures during a virtual patient session. They will learn not only how to diagnose and treat a patient, but also about typical dishes in each country that for example can also cause allergic reactions. This makes the cases vivid, realistic, and more interesting. Moreover, they can be the basis for inspiring discussions,  intercultural exchange, and preparing students for mobility actions to our partner countries.  

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