88% of US-Born Sex Trafficking Victims Receive Medical Care – USF Med Student Creates Simulation Scenario to Help ID Warning Signs

Human Trafficking, Behind the Scene

Michelle Lyman, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine is a third year medical student, has created a simulation scenario to help healthcare providers better identify those who may be victims of sex trafficking. Recently she shared about the experience and the reasons why she built the scenario on in-training.org. I have reached out to Michelle in the hopes that she will share her scenario with us so stay tuned to this article for future updates!

In-Training.org Excerpt:

“Physicians across many specialties are treating trafficked persons in their practice. Yet, they are not trained to recognize human trafficking or know how to intervene. Studies have shown that 88% of US-born sex trafficking victims reported receiving medical care while being trafficked . This puts healthcare providers in a key position with these vulnerable individuals to aid in identification, prevention and intervention, but only if they are educated about the clinical presentations of human trafficking. In an effort to increase health care’s capacity to fight human trafficking, I worked behind the scenes at my medical school’s simulation center, creating a clinical scenario centered on treating a trafficked person for my fellow students to learn from.

This 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. It is okay to become flustered and misspeak — this experience is formative; however, when the students are the practicing physicians in a few short years, stakes are higher. Watching through the two-way mirror, I saw students grow. Most were courteous; however, few took the extra effort to build a certain degree of trust with their distracted patient sitting on the examination table. This patient’s clipped responses to questions often intimidated many students, leading them to shy away from asking heavy questions about her history with abuse.


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Patients benefited the most from those students who were compassionate. Students who succeeded built a relationship by being empathetic. They looked beyond the exterior of a stoic young woman and offered her confidentiality, demonstrating respect for her decision to disclose. Their tone was non-judgmental and gentle when they took notice of her brandings that signaled her trafficking history. I also watched as standardized patients shut down and students walked away unaware. Some sped through their mental checklist, forgetting that simply looking and inspecting the patient might tell them more than a blood test. Others took too direct an approach, demanding a more detailed history, only to be met with a wall of resistance and no new information.

For the simulation case, the patient sitting on the exam table is a collection of narratives from individuals who have experienced human trafficking and survived. It is my goal that by interacting with this patient, students will learn from their missteps now and be able to see the signs of trafficking for what it is later. After all, being cognizant enough to recognize a patient in need of resources to advocate for their own health is all part of the job. Empathy and empowerment thereafter are crucial, but being able to provide such values takes practice and dedication.”

Michelle is in the SELECT Program at the University of South Florida. Originally from Jacksonville Florida, Michelle currently lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania where she is completing her third year clerkships. She is interested in public health and patient advocacy.


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