For Standardized Patients

Time Commitment | Training | Encounters | Benefits | Becoming a Standardized Patient | FAQs

Standardized Patients (SPs) are people who have been carefully coached and trained to simulate an actual patient. They portray the entire patient -- not just the history, but also the body language, physical findings, emotions, and personality characteristics of the patient. Standardized Patients may not have any prior medical knowledge, come from all backgrounds, and represent ages and physical types. Some SPs are actors, but most are not. They share an interest in helping others and are especially interested in helping students learn to be doctors. Through their patient portrayals, SPs help in teaching new skills, refining old skills, and evaluating learners, further enabling medical school to assess where to focus a student’s education and to verify that students are ready to begin practice.

Standardized Patients are used to help students learn interpersonal and communication skills as well as how to examine patients and solve medical problems in a safe environment. For example, students can practice challenging situations such as ethical dilemmas, delivering bad news, communicating with angry or upset patients, and dealing with medical emergencies. At the end of each encounter when the student is most ready to learn, both the SP and the faculty members give the student feedback on how to improve. The students also can watch video recordings of their performances.

To be successful, each case must be:

  • As close to reality as possible
  • Able to be scored (have items the SP can recognize as being important like the student asking a specific question)
  • Allow testing of several student skills during one session (how they ask questions, examine a part of the body, or recommend a specific medication)
  • The same performance for every student so students can be compared

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Time Commitment

Training to become a Standardized Patient typically involves one or two coaching sessions, each lasting approximately one hour. The actual student encounters can take place during the week or on weekends based on the type of event. Most Standardized Patients perform their encounters about once a month. If you are trained for more than one role, you may be asked to commit more time. Typical sessions last three 3-4 hours, though occasional sessions are as short as an hour as long as a full day.

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Training

Standardized Patients are trained to portray a particular patient. The SP learns a complete history, including the patient’s reasons to see the doctor as well as details about the patient's past health, job, social life, family, and daily activities. The training also includes the patient's emotional state, behavior, and concerns. The SP can learn to become that patient and speak to the doctor just as that real patient would. The training also covers how to move like the patient and how to react to any medical exam. For example, if the case is someone with back pain, the SP will learn where it hurts, how the patient could move, and what the patient can and cannot do because of the pain.

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Encounters

After introducing themselves, the first thing that students do is discuss with the patient the reasons for seeing a physician. Then they ask questions to obtain more details and collect background information about previous health, family, and other issues. Standardized Patients are trained to be prepared to answer these questions. The case may also require a physical examination, which typically includes listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope; pressing on the abdomen; looking into the eyes; ears and throat; taking blood pressure; assessing muscle strength; checking reflexes; and/or checking pulses. No blood or tissue samples will be taken and “sensitive” exams requiring you to undress completely are not performed. If a case requires additional information, SPs give the students a card, saying “I just had that test done, and here are the results.” After performing the physical exam, students should discuss the medical problem and its potential solutions with the patient. Once the discussion is over, the student leaves the room to write the medical record and the SP fills out an evaluation form about the student.

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Benefits

You will be involved in educating future physicians and will work with people who share your interests. You will be paid for the time you spend in training and in student encounters (typically $12-15/hour).

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Becoming a Standardized Patient

If you are interested in becoming a Standardized Patient or have further questions, contact Kris Roudebush at 316-293-3511 or kroudebush@kumc.edu.  

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Frequently Asked Questions

Click the "+" after a question to view the answer...

What is a Standardized Patient?

How will I know what to say when the students interview me?

Do students and residents know that an SP is not a real patient?

Will I have to grade the student?

What type of physical examination should I expect?

Will I have to remove my clothing?

Is an SP's personal health history relevant?

What characteristics make an effective SP?

Is acting experience a prerequisite to working as an SP?

What are SPs paid?

How often might I be called to be an SP?

What can I expect if I am hired as an SP?

How do I apply to become an SP?

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Last modified: Apr 17, 2014
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