USF joins UL, Harvard to provide medical schools a model to teach signs of human trafficking

As many as 88 percent of human trafficking victims in the United States interact with a health care professional. Yet these professionals’ ability to recognize the signs of human trafficking and intervene appropriately is hindered by a lack of training.

Now a new medical school curriculum to fill this training gap has been proposed and tested by researchers from the University of Louisville (UL), Harvard University and the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

USF Health’s Michelle Lyman

Michelle Lyman, an MD/MPH student in the SELECT program at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, joined faculty and staff from UL and Harvard in exploring the use of a patient simulation training module incorporated into the third year of medical school. Their research was published this month in the journal Medical Education Online.

The curriculum, known as the Medical Student Instruction in Global Human Trafficking, or M-SIGHT, was created by the UL School of Medicine to prepare students to recognize patients who may be victims of human trafficking and intervene on their behalf.  The Morsani College of Medicine has adopted this curriculum, and teaches Tampa Bay area-specific resources available for trafficked persons in the online learning module portion of the program.

M-SIGHT includes a standardized patient simulation case in which an adolescent patient presents with classic symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease as well as common characteristics of victims of human trafficking: poor eye contact, reluctance to communicate with the physician, inconsistencies in patient history, tattoos that could suggest branding and evidence of physical abuse. The simulation concludes with feedback from the standardized patient participant and documentation by the learner.

“The case was designed to expose future physicians to the complexity of human trafficking.  The simulation center provides a learning environment to explore uneasy feelings in difficult clinical scenarios and practice building trust,” Lyman said. “We, as health care professionals, are not here to merely tell patients that they must leave their trafficker. Rather, our aim should be giving them tools to be able to leave successfully, with their own self-reserve.”

The initial project was implemented over a 16-month period and the authors are now evaluating the data collected from the students. They plan to share an analysis of the curriculum’s effectiveness in the future.

For more about M-SIGHT, click here.

For Lyman’s medical student perspective on human trafficking, click here.

-Content from a University of Louisville news release contributed to this article.