resident with standardized patient

SPs in Medical Education


The School of Medicine uses simulated/standardized patients (SPs) to help teach doctoring and clinical examination skills. They allow students to meaningfully explore and practice concepts and relationships involving real-world application within a simulated learning environment.

Our SPs help provide a safe and supportive place where medical students can learn from their mistakes without fear of harming a real patient. SPs are coached to appear authentic to medical students by recreating a patient’s history, personality, physical findings, and an emotional life at a particular moment in time.

Our SPs may provide feedback to learners through dialogue about their history-taking and communication skills at the conclusion of a simulation event.

Read on to learn more about being a standardized patient.

Applications are not being accepted at this time. Please check back later.

What to Know About Being a SP

Medical students with a standardized patient

Being a SP takes energy, compassion, discipline, concentration, memorization, excellent communication skills, and a high level of comfort with your own person. The job is not easy and is not for everybody.

  • It requires intense concentration while being interviewed and examined.
  • You must respond as a real patient would, not only maintaining the patient’s character but also their physical condition throughout the encounter, while remaining mindful of what the learner is doing and how they are doing it.
  • When the encounter is over, you have to remember what the learner did and record it on a checklist.
  • Sometimes you have to give constructive feedback directly to the student in a kind and encouraging way.
  • You often have to repeat your tasks many times in succession without change.

SP work contributes not only to the education of our future physicians, but also to improving patient care.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like?

SPs are given a “patient case” which details the current medical problem, past medical issues, family and social situation, and the affect you will need to portray.

  • You will learn to look like the patient by using specific body language, movement, and responses to physical exams.
  • 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.
  • You will be asked to complete a checklist for some cases, which record the way a student asked you questions or responded to you during the doctor-patient visit. If you are asked to fill out a checklist, this will be covered in training.

No Acting Experience Required

While many actors work as SPs, being an SP is rewarding and challenging for actors and non-actors alike. The most important aspect of being an SP is that you provide a consistent experience for each learner. The emphasis is on providing educational opportunity, not on performance or dramatic interpretation.

Medical Knowledge

SP receiving ultrasound from a medical student

While you are not required to know anything about medicine, your patient case will contain the information you need for portrayal and feedback. You will attend a training (2-9 hours) with an SP educator prior to performing the case.

Several SPs may train together in order to standardize the portrayal of the case and checklist completion.

Previous Health History

Since each person is matched to cases based on the demographics of the case, your health history may be important. For example, an SP who has had a tonsillectomy could not portray a patient with tonsillitis. However, a surgical scar on your hand might not matter in a case about a headache. Our team matches SPs to cases based on the needs of the case and the individual's pertinent health history.

All learners who come to the Center for Simulated Patient Care are aware they are seeing SPs, not real patients.

Work Attire

  • SPs are generally required to wear hospital gowns during events that include a physical examination.
  • SPs must always wear undergarments under gowns, and if appropriate to the patient case, shorts.
  • For interview only cases, SPs wear street clothes. Occasionally, make-up is applied to simulate various medical issues.

Frequency of Work

The work of a SP is part-time, occasional work. Some of our SPs work twice a year, while others work several times per month.

SP simulations are scheduled according to the medical student curriculum calendar and any outside clients’ needs. Work fluctuates according to the needs of our faculty and students and is rarely in a predictable pattern.

SPs who perform satisfactorily and have proven themselves punctual and reliable are given first preference for future work, depending on case requirements.