Educational AffairsOffice of Clinical Simulation

Frequently Asked Questions

For Standardized Patients

  • What is a Standardized Patient?
    A Standardized Patient or SP is an individual trained to portray a specific patient case in a consistent manner. 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 direction. Each SP encounter is designed to assess skills appropriate to both the SP's and the student's level of training. Standardized Patients may provide constructive feedback.
  • What types of people do you need?
    We are looking for men and women of all ages, physical types, ethnic groups, and various backgrounds to represent the various types of patients they will be portraying. We need individuals who are strong communicators, who can learn quickly, accept direction, and adapt easily to a variety of different situations.
  • How is this different from acting?
    This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments or playing to an audience. It has everything to do with disciplining yourself within the needs of the case and exam. It may be appropriate for you to appear anxious, irritable, or confused during an interview if that is part of the training scenario. When working as an SP, it is important that you portray the case exactly the same way for every student who interviews you.
  • Do the medical students know we are not actual patients?
    Yes, the students are aware that you are SPs and are told to proceed just as they would with an actual patient while doing their interviews and physical examinations.
  • Why do you need Standardized Patients? I thought medical students learned on actual patients?
    Students do work with actual patients in supervised clinical experiences. However, SPs provide a safe and controlled learning environment in preparation for an actual patient encounter. A large number of students can consecutively interview an SP and each time the SP can behave as though it were the first time in the clinic for the same complaint. Thus, every student gets the chance to demonstrate his/her clinical skills in the same situation. It makes it a fair exam and learning experience for everyone.
  • How do I know what to say when the medical student interviews me?
    You will be carefully trained to portray a specific patient. You will learn the complete medical history, using your own history whenever possible. As the patient, you will be able to tell the student details about your life such as your work, family, and hobbies. You will be trained to portray the patient's appropriate emotional state. For cases requiring a physical exam, you will know how to move as that patient would and also simulate findings while being examined. You will also be trained to give feedback after being interviewed or examined, allowing the student to hear constructive feedback from the patient he/she just interviewed or examined.
  • Will I undergo a physical exam or have to remove my clothing?
    For patient cases that require no physical examination, SPs wear street clothes. If the students are expected to perform a physical examination, you may be required to wear a hospital gown. The cases that require these physical examinations are clearly outlined for SPs prior to their agreement to participate in them.
  • What would be involved in a physical examination?
    You would take part in very common examinations. For example, students may: listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope; press on your abdomen looking for tenderness or swellings; look into your eyes, ears, and throat; take your blood pressure; assess your muscle strength; check your reflexes; check your pulses, etc. None of the examinations involve taking any blood or other samples, and you will not be given any drugs.
  • I've had a couple of health problems in the past. Can I still be a standardized patient?
    Probably, if you are suitable in every other way. Sometimes an individual has a condition that would be very helpful to the student during the encounter. Other times, the condition could prohibit the student from learning the desired outcome for the encounter. There are no guarantees about the types of cases that are available, and some individuals are not suited for certain roles. Past or present medical conditions will not exclude you from participating in the program. However, you will need to be suitable in other ways.
  • How often would I work and when?
    That is very difficult to say. You are considered a part-time employee of UTMB. You will be scheduled according to the needs of the curriculum and the case being portrayed. Initially, you might work only a few hours during the course of months or none at all. Most of the student sessions take place on weekdays, so you would have to be available during those times. There also may be some weekend or evening work. We match your abilities as closely as possible with the current projects and then match schedule needs to your availability. Please note that once you agree to work on a particular day, it is absolutely essential that you meet that work commitment.
  • 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 I have to decide whether or not the student passes?
    No. Part of your job as an SP is to record the events of the encounters on a checklist for the purpose of scoring the students. You are also asked to give verbal and written feedback to the students on their interpersonal skills from your perspective as the patient. Faculty ultimately decides whether or not the student passed the exercise.
  • Being an SP sounds like easy money. Can anyone do it?
    No. Being an SP is hard work. Below is a list of expectations for our SPs. SPs should:
    • Be comfortable with their health and dealing with health professionals.
    • Be willing to be videotaped for educational purposes.
    • Not have any biases against anyone based on their gender, race, religion, national origin, physical characteristics, etc.
    • Be reliable and punctual to scheduled events.
    • Keep all case information confidential.
    • Repeatedly portray a patient case with accuracy as trained by our faculty or staff.
    • Remember what the student who examined you did and then record it on a checklist.
    • Have strong written and verbal communication skills.
    • Want to contribute to the training process of excellent physicians.
  • I'm still interested. What do I do next?
    Call the Office of Clinical Simulation at (409) 772-6300 or click on a request for more information. Once we have received your request, we will invite you to an information session. We then match patient cases with SPs using such criteria as age, gender, etc. If we do not have suitable opportunity right away, we will keep your information on file for the future and will contact you if there is an opening for a case matching your profile.
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