What is a “Standardized Patient”?
A Standardized Patient (SP) is a person who has been trained to portray, in a consistent, standardized manner, a patient in a medical situation. Standardized Patients, (or SPs), are used by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and other institutions to teach and evaluate students. SPs learn cases then are interviewed and / or examined by students as though they were in the doctor’s office or clinic, portraying the patient’s history and simulating their physical signs such as pain or difficulty walking.
What’s the difference between the terms standardized and simulated?
The word “standardized” in Standardized Patient means we train each person portraying a role to be the same. And each student receives the same information and responses no matter which SP they encounter. This way, we accurately teach and assess students according to one standard per case. We strive to set standards that can be accurately reproduced.
The terms Simulated Patient or Simulated Participant are used for encounters that require someone involved with the simulated scenario that may be portraying another healthcare worker, a family member, or someone else who is not specifically a patient.
How do I know what to say and do when the student interviews and examines me?
You are thoroughly trained to portray the patient. We create a complete history for you to learn; including the patient’s reason to see the doctor, his/her past medical history, and details about his/her life such as employment, family, and activities. We also describe the emotional state he/she is in during the encounter. By learning that history, you will learn to portray the patient and speak to the healthcare provider. We will also teach you any physical effects of the patient and how to react to the physical examination. For example, you may be portraying someone with abdomen pain and you would be shown where on your body it hurts and how to react when that area is palpated (pressed on) in certain places. You will also practice the interview and physical exam prior to interacting with students.
That sounds like acting. Do I have to be an actor?
No. Some SPs are trained and experienced actors, but most are not. You can be a very good SP without ever having been on stage or in a movie. There are some similarities to what actors do, but it isn’t necessary.
I am an actor. This should be easy for me and good experience, too.
Perhaps. You may find it much more difficult than working from a script or within common improvisational outlines, and you may find it very frustrating. This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments, entertaining, or playing to an audience. It can be very repetitive; the same patient must be presented for every student. In addition to portraying the case, you will need to observe the behavior of the learner, provide balanced and objective feedback, and stay flexible to the needs of the faculty in each situation. This work also is confidential, and you will not be permitted to share this material or use it in any public or private performance.
Is it safe?
Yes. There is no reason for anyone to do anything that might be harmful. You are just portraying someone who has a medical condition. The examinations allowed on SPs are very basic and do not cause any harm to the SP. If you ever have cause for concern, you are entitled to stop any examination.
Do the students know we are not real patients?
Yes. We aren’t trying to deceive anyone. Students are told they will be working with SPs but are told to behave as though they are with real patients.
Will I need to take off my clothes?
Sometimes. If the students are only required to interview the patient, then you will not need to. In some situations, you will be undergoing a physical examination, and for that you would be dressed in a hospital gown, open at the back, with shorts and, if female, a sports bra on underneath. You will know beforehand when this would be expected. In some cases, certain pulses should be checked at locations underneath the underwear, but the underwear does not need to be removed.
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.
Why do you need Standardized Patients? I thought medical students learned with real patients.
By using SPs, students have the opportunity to practice the skills they are taught before they work with real patients. These encounters provide a safe setting to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without doing any harm to a real patient such as counseling them badly or taking a poor history. This is not intended to replace the experience they will need with real patients but rather to add to their training so that they can do a better job. SPs can be more consistent, more objective, and more flexible than real patients.
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 often would I work and when?
That is very difficult to say. You are considered a contract employee of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. 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.
How much does the job pay?
We will discuss pay with you at the SP orientation. SPs are paid an hourly stipend.
I’m still interested. What do I do next?
Please go to the SP application page for further instructions and details. We hire throughout the year depending on the needs of the program. Even if we do not use you right away, we will keep your application on file for future needs.
DISCLAIMER: Standardized Patient (SP) is contractual employment with UAMS, and is not part-time or full-time employment. Contractual employees: “independent contractors,” “contract workers,” “freelancers” or “work-for-hire staffers,” are hired, for a specific project or timeframe for a set fee. Projects are Event based and short-term.