What is a Standardized Patient (SP)?
A Standardized Patient or SP is an individual trained to portray a specific patient case in a consistent manner. SPs learn to appear as the patient by using specific body language, movement, and responses to physical examination. During an interaction with a student, the SP presents the case history in response to questioning by the student and/or undergoes physical examinations at the student's directions. Each SP encounter is designed to assess skills appropriate to both the SP's and the student's level of training.
How is this different from acting?
This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic movements, entertaining, or playing to an audience. It has everything to do with disciplining oneself within the needs of the case and exam. It may be appropriate to appear anxious, irritable, or confused during an interview if that is part of the training scenario. In addition to portraying the case, it is important to observe the behavior of the learners to provide balanced and objective feedback and allowing flexibility to the needs of the faculty in each performance. SPs portray the same role scenario to each student they interact with during the scenario time-frame, and it is important to portray the case exactly the same way for every student.
Do the medical students know SPs are not real patients?
Yes, the students are aware that SPs are not real patient. They are told to proceed just as they would with real patients while doing interviews and physical examinations.
How do SPs know what to say when the medical student interviews them?
SPs are carefully trained to portray a specific patient. They learn the complete medical history of the patient and can tell the student details about his/her life, such as work, family, and hobbies. SPs are trained to depict the patient's appropriate emotional state as well. For cases requiring a physical exam, SPs know how to move as the patient would and also simulate findings while being examined. They are also trained to give feedback after being interviewed or examined, allowing the students to hear constructive feedback from the patient point of view.
What type of physical examinations are performed?
For patient cases that require no physical examinations, SPs wear street clothes. If the students are expected to perform a physical examination, SPs may be required to wear a hospital gown. Students perform focused physical examinations based on the patient case. These examinations may include listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, pressing on the abdomen, neck, face, and limbs, using a scope to look in the ears, eyes, nose, and throat, taking a pulse or blood pressure, checking muscle strength, reflexes, range of motion, and gait. The cases that require these physical examinations are clearly outlined for SPs prior to their agreement to participate in them.
Is it safe?
Yes. There is no reason for anyone to do anything that might be harmful. The examinations are very basic and do not cause any harm to the patient. All encounters are videotaped, and most interactions are observed as they happen, in part for the safety and comfort of the SP.
Do SPs have to grade the students or decide whether or not they pass?
Part of the SP job is to record the events of the encounters on a checklist to score the student. SPs are asked to give both positive and constructive feedback on the student’s interpersonal skills from the perspective of the patient. Faculty ultimately decides whether or not the student passes an exercise.
Do SPs need to know a lot about medicine?
No. Patient cases contain all of the information one needs for portrayal and feedback.
Is previous health history important to become an SP?
It might be. Each patient is matched with a case. An SP who has had an appendectomy could not portray a patient with appendicitis. However, a surgical scar might not matter in a case about a headache or wrist pain. SP's answers on the application will help match the SP to appropriate patient cases.
How often do SPs work?
The work can be temporary, part-time, and seasonal. SP sessions are scheduled according to student needs and program requirements. SPs who perform satisfactorily are given first preference for future work, depending on need and case requirements.
What else is important to becoming a Standardized Patient?
This job is not easy, and it is not for everybody. It requires concentration while being interviewed and examined. SPs must be able to respond exactly as the real patient would. They must be able to maintain not only the patient’s character, but also simulate their physical condition during an encounter. When the encounter is over, SPs must recall the student’s performance and record it on a checklist. At times, SPs may also provide verbal feedback directly to the student. SPs repeat these tasks many times in succession without change. Being an SP takes energy, memorization, discipline, concentration, excellent communications skill, and a high level of comfort with one’s own health.
How are SPs elected?
SPs use a wide range of skills needed, including the ability to role-play and work with a varied group of people. It is important for interested candidates to be comfortable with allowing others to touch and examine their bodies. The SP team conducts individual interviews to find out if an applicant is suitable for the job. Characteristics looked for in the interview are a positive attitude due to the repeated examinations, no biases toward gender, race, religion, national origin, or physical characteristics, reliability and punctuality, an understanding of confidential matters, and the ability to be comfortable with one’s own health. Reference and background checks are conducted to see if an individual is a good fit; before an offer is made.
Next Steps & Contacting the Standardized Patient Program
Please fill out the
Standardized Patient Application (SP Application) to be considered for a position. Please note that a resume is required and cover letter suggested as well. Contact the Standardized Patient Program by calling or sending an email to:
Manager, Standardized Patient and Simulation Center
Standardized Patient Training Coordinator