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What are standardized patients (SPs)?

  • SPs are individuals that have been trained to simulate in a defined, consistent and standardized manner, a patient in a medical situation.
  • An SP is a person who portrays a patient so that someone can learn how to interact with that patient.

How do we utilize standardized patients?

  • We use SPs to see how well a student, resident, fellow or practicing provider can get information from a patient or do a physical exam, to let doctors practice difficult communication situations before having those conversations in the real world, to demonstrate a senior physician’s communication skills to learners and for other reasons.
  • The SP provides feedback to the learner based on the interaction. There is flexibility within the role of the SP depending on the need of the learner and the objectives of the educational activity.
  • The SP could play a variety of roles, such as:
    • A patient
    • A patient instructor (specifically guiding a learner through a skill development, such as an abdominal exam)
    • A learner ally (providing information to the learner during a simulated encounter, like a trauma simulation)
    • A family member or friend of a patient
    • A healthcare provider (physician, nurse, etc.)
  • In addition, within these different roles, the SP can be utilized to educate and achieve a number of different objectives:
    • History taking skills
    • Physical exam skills
    • Communication skills

Why do we use standardized patients?
The critical aspect of a SP program is the ability to recreate a clinical setting in which the learner can practice their clinical and interpersonal skills with a standardized patient. The value of using SPs for these roles and teaching objectives is extremely high. An SP encounter provides the educator with a great deal of control over a clinical encounter.

What do we do in our Standardized Patient Program?
Our SP Program encompasses a process that includes writing cases for standardized encounters, training SPs, developing assessment tools and providing the logistics/environment for the program. We currently have six standardized patient clinic rooms and two inpatient hospital rooms in our simulation space and a standardized patient flex pool. We develop sessions based on the needs of the learners and utilize several different learning formats including SP encounters for evaluation, small and large group coaching and feedback sessions. We have developed several cases but are constantly updating and developing new ones, some examples are listed below:

  • Motivational interviewing – smoking cessation
  • Motivational interviewing – healthy lifestyles
  • Breaking bad news – death notification
  • End-of-life conversation
  • Informed consent
  • Pain management – inpatient and outpatient
  • Negotiation of a plan of care
  • Hidden agenda – domestic violence

How many standardized patients do we have?
We currently have 22 trained actors.

Who are the relationship-centered communication faculty?
We currently have 40 faculty members trained in relationship-centered communication to coach and provide feedback during SP sessions.

Contact us

Pam Humphrey, EMT 
Senior Coordinator, GEMS 
April Morgan, MEd 

Manager, Curriculum and Medical Simulation 
Mary Harris, MD 
Director, Curriculum and Faculty Development 
Nicole Woll, PhD, MEd 
Associate Dean and Vice President, Faculty and Continuing Professional Development