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Standardized Patient Program - Patient FAQs


Who can be a Standardized Patient (SP)?

Men and women of all ages and ethnic groups have the opportunity to apply for a SP position. We look for people with excellent communication skills, a good memory, and relatively flexible schedules. We value reliability and punctuality. You should be comfortable with your own health and in dealing with health professionals. The best SPs have a genuine interest in helping student learn.

Is a SP a research subject?

No. We are studying medical students, not patients. We use SPs to simulate patient interviews and physical examinations for students.

Is it safe to be a SP?

Yes. You will not be asked to do invasive exams, such as pelvic or rectal exams. Students will not practice giving you injections or collecting blood or other fluid samples from you. At most, some exams may be slightly uncomfortable. If you feel your safety is ever at risk, you can ask the student to stop what they are doing and report to your trainer. All student encounters are video recorded, in part for the SP's safety.

Is being a SP easy?

This job is not easy, and it is not for everybody. It requires intense concentration while you are being interviewed and examined. You must be able to maintain the patient's character and physical condition during a 15-minute long encounter. After the encounter you must be able to remember what the student did and didn't do and record this information on a checklist. You have to be able to do this many times in succession and maintain a high level of consistency and accuracy. Being a SP is hard work.

Will I need to know a lot about medicine?

No. We will teach you what you need to know. We actually prefer people who have not had medical training, because it can confuse the situation. Most SPs find they learn a lot from the work.

This sounds like acting. Do I have to be an actor?

Some standardized patients are trained and experienced actors, but many are not. You can be a very good SP without ever having appeared on a stage or in a movie. Some actors find SP work much more difficult and frustrating than working from a script or within dramatic improvisational guidelines. It can be very repetitive, as exactly the same simulation must be done for every student.

As a SP, do I grade the students?

No. It would not be fair to expect someone without medical training to grade the clinical skills of medical students. Part of the SP's job is to record the events of student encounters on a checklist, but the checklist is only a portion of the student's score. It is still important to be accurate, as the student's score is based partially on what you record.

How will I know what to say when the student interviews me?

You will be trained to portray the patient. We create a complete history for you to learn. It includes the patient's main complaint, her past medical history, and details about her life such as her job, her family, and her activities. We also describe the emotional state she is in when she sees her doctor and how to react to the physical examination. For example, if you portraying someone with back pain, we would show you where it hurts and tell you what you could and could not do because of your pain.

Do the medical students know we're not real patients?

Yes. We aren't trying to deceive anyone. Everyone taking the test will know that they are seeing SPs in simulations of clinical encounters. Students are told to behave just as they would with a real patient in conducting their interviews and physical exams.

What types of physical examinations would be done?

They would be very common examinations of the type you would have in a doctor's office. For example, medical students may listen to heart and lungs with a stethoscope; press on your abdomen to look for tenderness or swelling; take your blood pressure; look into eyes, ears, nose and throat; assess your muscle strength; check your pulses; etc. The students will not do breast, pelvic, or rectal exams on you. We do have specially trained standardized patient teaching associates who teach those exams.

As a SP, will I need to remove clothing or expose private parts?

SPs generally wear hospital gowns and short pants when they are meeting with medical students so that a variety of exams can be performed without removing clothing. Varying amounts of underclothing will be worn depending upon the exam. Part of the SP's job is to assess whether the student has draped you properly. In other words, they should expose the parts of the body being examined, while leaving the rest of the body covered. You will not be asked to do a genital or rectal exam. In some cases which require no physical examination, SPs wear street clothing.

Is my previous health history important?

Everyone has had some sort of medical history. Sometimes your medical history can prevent you from being a good candidate for a particular case, but there will be other cases you can do. Sometimes your health history can be an advantage. For example, if you have had surgery that has left a scar, that could add to the realism of your portrayal of a patient who has had similar surgery.

How often would I work?

The work will be irregular. We teach physical exam techniques in the fall and give two large, multi-week exams in the spring. In addition, we do smaller projects using SPs throughout the year. There are some SPs working most weeks of the year, but how often you work will depend on the types of patients we need to portray. SPs who have done satisfactory work for us in the past will be given the opportunity to work more often.

How much does the job pay?

Basic exam interactions like history taking and general exam procedures pay $16.50 an hour. As this is a part time job, we do not offer benefits. Compensation differs per hour for more intimate exams: the female breast and pelvic exam and the male genitourinary exam. SPs who are interested and have taught the basic physical exams for a year or more are eligible to teach more intimate exams.

How are SPs trained to work with students?

For teaching and assessment sessions, SPs usually receive about 10 hours of training. Home study is expected.

Training for the teaching program will include a lecture given by faculty, a review of physical exam technique, a training video, and peer role-play.

During training for assessment, SPs portraying the same role will meet as a group with the SP trainer to review the case, practice role play, and standardize their portrayals. SPs are trained to provide feedback and score student performance. Before encountering students, SPs are required to successfully demonstrate their "character" for the SP trainer.

How do I become a SP?

E-mail us with your contact information at If you wish, attach a cover letter and/or resume.  We will contact you to answer any questions you may have and find out if you would be a good fit for our program.

If you have more questions, please call 504-988-3710 and ask for Cathy, or e-mail us at