Penn State College of Medicine students work with a simulation arm to learn how to draw blood in a session in the Clinical Simulation Center in July 2016. The simulation arm is pictured in the center of the photo with tubes of red-dyed liquid leading to it. The hands of four students are seen around the simulation arm.

Clinical Simulation Center

Standardized Patient Program

The Standardized Patient (SP) is a person who has been carefully coached to simulate an actual patient. Such individuals are used to "role-play" case scenarios that are carefully designed by faculty to teach and/or test clinical or related skills.

Such educational activities may occur in a variety of settings where options exist to observe the encounter through one-way glass windows or to record the encounter on videotape for review purposes.

The Standardized Patient Program at Penn State College of Medicine is part of the Simulation Center. It helps recruit and train candidates to become SPs and also arranges reimbursement for their services. It helps faculty in case development as it relates to the use of SPs and also serves as an institutional resource for any interested users.

The Standardized Patient

SPs may be laypeople or professional actors. They may also be patients with known abnormalities where cases can be "built" around those abnormalities (e.g. known heart murmurs, etc.).

Using a professional trainer and faculty help, such individuals are coached to "mimic" cases, including "acting out" certain physical findings. They are also taught to provide constructive feedback to the trainee/examinee on the encounter. Such individuals are reimbursed at an hourly rate for their services.

Benefits of the Standardized Patient Approach

The program provides a very useful and flexible teaching and testing tool. It is particularly helpful for the student in transitioning from the classroom to the care of real patients. To faculty, on the other hand, it provides a tool to both teach and test students in a consistent and standardized manner.

It can be used to provide a "controlled" exposure to situations that are difficult, sensitive or uncomfortable such as giving bad news, dealing with hostile or difficult patients or sexual/domestic abuse etc. Also, new trainees may get an opportunity to work with emergency conditions without the immediate concern for patient safety. Further, trainees get the opportunity to get direct feedback from the SP regarding their communication skills.

With inpatient hospital stays substantially reduced, it is particularly difficult to locate appropriate patients for training students. The selected use of SPs overcomes this problem.

Who Benefits from Training?

  • Medical students
  • PA students
  • Residents in training
  • Physicians (faculty development, testing skills, etc.)
  • Nurses and nursing students
  • Other allied health professionals (pharmacy, physical therapy students, etc.)