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Frequently Asked Questions

The Clinical Skills Center makes use of Standardized Patients who are trained to portray a patient in a medical situation in a consistent, standardized manner. Standardized Patients (SP) are used by the UC Irvine School of Medicine and other institutions to teach and evaluate students.

SPs learn about a case based on a real patient other than themselves and are interviewed and/or examined by students as though they were that person in the doctor's office or clinic. The SP gives the case patient's history and simulated the appropriate physical signs, such as pain or difficulty walking.—

Why do you use the term standardized instead of simulated? »

The mission of the Standardized Patient Program is not only to have a patient actor realistically convey an illness to a student, but rather to convey it in a consistent and measurable way.

Ten SPs can be trained to do the same clinical case. No matter which SP interacts with the student, he or she would receive the same information and responses while still interacting with each student.

This allows us to accurately teach and assess students according to one standard per case.

Do I have to be an actor to be a standardized patient? »

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.

I am an actor, so would this be easy for me? »

You may find it different than working from a script, and you may find it frustrating. This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments or playing to an audience. 

It can be very repetitive to play the same "patient" withr every student.

In addition to portraying the case, the SP needs to observe the behavior of the learner, sometimes needing to remember questions asked or physical exam maneuvers performed, in order to complete a checklist after the student exits the room.

This work also is confidential and you will not be permitted to share this material or use it in any public or private performance.

Do medical students know we are not real patients? »

Yes. Students are told they will be working with SPs. But they 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.

However, in some situations, you will be undergoing a physical examination. For that you would be dressed in a hospital gown, with underwear on underneath. You would know beforehand when this would be expected.

What is 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
  • Examine your eyes, ears and throat
  • Take your blood pressure
  • Assess your muscle strength
  • Check your reflexes, pulses, etc.
How will I know what to say during the exam? »

We create a complete history for you to learn. It includes:

  • The reason the patient comes to see the doctor
  • His/her past medical history
  • Details about his/her life, such as employment, family and activities 

You are taught to portray the emotional state the patient is in during the encounter. We also show you how to move like the patient and how to react to the physical examination.

For example, you may be portraying someone with a bad back. We would show you where it should hurt and what the patient could or could not do because of the back problem. 

If I've had health problems in the past, can I still be a standardized patient? »

Sometimes an individual has a condition that would be very helpful to the student.

If you have a current medical condition, please indicate that on the patient profile form. We will consider this for the faculty-led teaching sessions.

What types of people do you need? »

We are looking for men and women of all ages, physical types, ethnic groups and backgrounds to represent various types of patients.

We need individuals who are strong communicators, who can learn quickly, accept direction and adapt easily to a variety of different situations.

What is involved in the training to be a standardized patient? »

Typically, an SP meets with a trainer for a specified amount of time, depending on the complexity of the case and the SP’s experience.

Certain cases require the SP to record a student's performance on an assessment tool (checklist), which will require additional training.

Do I need to know a lot about medicine?  »

No. We will teach you what you need to know to accurately portray a case.

When and how often would I work? »

That is difficult to predict. You will be contacted and scheduled according to the needs of the School of Medicine curriculum, the case being portrayed and — of course — your availability.

There are no guarantees about the types of cases that are available, and some individuals are not suited for certain roles.

You may be scheduled only a few hours over the course of several months or none at all. Alternatively, you may be perfect for a case or cases that play frequently.

How are SPs compensated? »

SPs receive compensation, both for training time and performance time. Sps also receive compensation for any teaching sessions they may be involved in.

How are SPs selected? »

Characteristics we look for are:

  • A positive attitude, given the repeated examinations
  • No biases over gender, race, religion, national origin or physical characteristics
  • Reliability and punctuality
  • A person who understands the need for confidentiality
  • Someone who is comfortable dealing with healthcare professionals

Being an SP is not for everyone. If you are performing a case, it requires intense concentration while you are at times being interviewed and examined by as many as eight to 10 students in succession.

Being an SP requires energy, discipline and concentration:

  • You must be able to respond exactly as the real patient would, and only as that patient, never as yourself.
  • You also must be able to maintain not only the patient’s character, but also simulate his or her physical condition during the interview and examination, and do so repeatedly in a consistent manner.
  • You may be required to accurately recall the encounter and assess how that student impacted you as the patient.

Being an SP is unusual and interesting work. Most SPs report great satisfaction. Hopefully, we have answered some of your questions to better help you understand what is involved

How do apply for the SP program? »

Please go to the SP Profile link for further instructions and details.

You will need to include a current photo with your profile.

Don’t be concerned if we don’t contact you right away. We will keep your application on file for future needs.