Frequently Asked Questions About Standardized Patients

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What is a Standardized Patient?

A Standardized Patient (SP) is a person who has been trained to simulate accurately and consistently the medical condition of an actual patient. This is accomplished by recreating the medical and family history, the physical findings, and the personality of that patient.

The University of Kansas School of Medicine utilizes Standardized Patients in the training and evaluation of medical students and residents. As a Standardized Patient, you will be interviewed and examined by medical students or residents, just as you would by your family doctor. However, instead of disclosing your personal medical, family and bio-social history, you will answer questions based on the “facts” of the “patient case” that you have learned.

The idea of using SPs was developed by Dr. Howard S. Barrows, a neurologist, in 1963. Currently, most medical schools in the United States utilize SPs for teaching and testing medical students. Although SPs do not replace real patients in the curriculum, they do provide a realistic learning resource for students.

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

You will be given "SP facts," or a script, detailing the current medical problem, past medical history, family and bio-social situation, and emotional state of the patient that you will portray. You will learn to appear as the patient by using specific body language, movement, and responses to physical examination. You will also be trained to look for specific student responses and skills, to record them, and to give feedback to the student on their performance.

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

All students and residents are aware that they are seeing a Standardized Patient. However, they are instructed to treat the SP as a real patient. Thus, the students’ and residents’ interviewing and physical examination techniques and skills, are, in all respects, the same as if they were seeing a real patient who presents with a real medical condition or concern.

Will I have to grade the student?

You will not be asked to give any student or resident a grade. You will be asked to complete a checklist as a record of the encounter. Some of our programs also require SPs to provide both positive and constructive feedback to the students or residents based on their communication iskills.

What type of physical examination should I expect?

This will depend on the type of patient case. A focused physical examination may include: listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope; pressing on your abdomen, neck, face, and limbs to assess tenderness; using a scope to look in your ears, eyes, nose, and throat; taking your pulse, respiration, and blood pressure; checking muscle strength, reflexes, range of motion, and gait. Sensitive exams (breast, pelvic, genital, rectal) as well as invasive procedures (blood draw, x-ray, throat cultures) will not be performed.

Will I have to remove my clothing?

Hospital gowns might be worn for a particular patient case. If so, we will provide the gown and you will keep your under-garmet clothing on.  

Is an SP’s personal health history relevant?

Maybe. Since an SP is hired and trained to portray a patient with a certain medical condition, someone who has had an appendectomy probably cannot portray a patient with appendicitis. But that same person could play the role of a patient with chest pain or someone with a back problem. In addition, an individual who has had a great deal of experience with health care providers, either personally or on behalf of a friend or relative, is not necessarily “more qualified” to be an SP than someone who simply gets a routine check-up now and then. Having had certain kinds of medical conditions or particularly “good” or “”bad” experiences with health care, are not measures of a potentially effective SP.

What characteristics make an effective SP?

If you are someone who:

  • Has a strong interest in education;
  • Possesses strong written and verbal communication skills;
  • Can maintain a strong level of concentration;
  • Is comfortable with others touching and examining you;
  • Values punctuality and commitment; and
  • Has a flexible schedule

Then you cmight have what it takes to be considered an SP!  SP work is part-time and very rewarding. People of all demographics are always needed.

Is acting experience a prerequisite to working as an SP?

No. While actors work as SPs, the focus is on providing the student or resident with an educational opportunity, not on performance or dramatic interpretation. Playing a patient case is extremely repetitive because the same portrayal must be done for every student during a specific event.

What are SPs paid?

Compensation ranges from $15 to $25 an hour depending on the program. Standardized Patients are hired as part-time employees (without any benefits) and must submit to a background check, identity verification and payroll paper-work processing.  All SP's are paid through direct deposit. 

How often might I be called to be an SP?

We schedule standardized patient events for medical and nursing students year round.  An event can last one day or up to 10 days (usually not consecutive), and the programs are scheduled to accommodate students’ class schedule. Often, we have events on weekday mornings, and once in a while on a Saturday. Since all of our programming needs are based on patient demographics, skills, experience, etc., if we do not contact you immediately it means we do not have any programs currently that match your particular demographics, skills, experience, etc.

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

Each SP for a particular event is carefully screened to determine how to best use their skills or attributes. As an SP you are expected to learn “Facts” about the case that you will portray. These “Facts” are just like the facts in your own personal situation, except they are not about you; they are about the fictitious person that you are portraying. You will be expected to memorize this information.  Your portrayal of the case will be much like when you visit your own health care provider, except you will respond to a student’s questions with the “Facts” that you have memorized.

Training time for individual roles varies from 5-15 hours and includes independent study as well as group training sessions led by senior program coordinators, trainers, and clinical faculty. During the training sessions, SPs study the learning objectives developed by the faculty, practice their role, receive instruction on feedback skills, role-play with other SPs and, finally, undergo a “dry run” with clinical faculty or staff.

Although this job is very rewarding, it is not easy nor is it for everybody. It requires intense concentration while being interviewed and examined. You must be able to maintain not only the patient’s character but also simulate their physical condition during an encounter. After the encounter, recall of the student’s performance is necessary in order to fill out a computerized checklist. You may also be required to provide verbal feedback directly to the student. In order to provide every student with the same experience, you will perform these steps repeatedly throughout the entire event. Being an SP takes energy, memorization, discipline, attention to detail, and excellent communication skills.

How do I apply to become an SP?

Click on the Standardized Patient Profile form located to the left and fill it out.  You can either email this to Suzy Austin at ( or mail it to my attention at the following address:

Neis Clinical Skills Lab
Office of Medical Education
Mail Stop 3027
3901 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160
Attention: Suzy Austin

If you have questions, please call me at 913-588-3425.

Last modified: Aug 19, 2015