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 percent of US-born sex trafficking victims reported receiving medical care while being trafficked. This puts health care 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.
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.