Student examines a patient in a clinical learning room

Becoming a Standardized Patient

Standardized patients are essential to the education of physicians and other health care professionals. They are coached to portray a clinical scenario in a standardized manner to make the educational experience consistent for each learner.

Standardized patients are trained to provide effective feedback, from the patient perspective, directly to the learner or to the assessor as part of the evaluation process.

What We Look For

Standardized patients come from all walks of life in our community. This job is not for everyone but is the ideal intermittent part-time job for those who have flexible schedules and are interested in contributing to the educational process.

Standardized patients should:

  • Want to contribute to the training of health care students
  • Have strong verbal communication skills
  • Be an excellent listener
  • Be comfortable with their health and talking with health professionals
  • Be reliable and punctual
  • Avoid judgmental comments about gender, race, religion, national origin, physical characteristics, etc.
  • Conduct themselves professionally, showing respect for all students, faculty members and staff
  • Consistently portray the role or scenario, as trained by staff
  • Keep all information regarding the case, students and other standardized patients confidential
  • Be willing to undergo limited physical exams
  • Be willing to be video-recorded for educational purposes

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a standardized patient?

A standardized patient is a person trained to portray a patient in realistic and repeatable ways for teaching and testing of clinical skills for health sciences learners. During interactions with a learner, the standardized patient role-plays a script to achieve the desired learning outcome(s) and, in some cases, undergoes specific physical examinations. The word “standardized” means that the standardized patient repeats his or her story in a consistent manner to ensure an equitable learning and testing environment for each student. It also means that the case portrayal is standardized among other patients who play that same role.

What are characteristics of successful standardized patients?

Successful standardized patients are those who are interested in health care education, who are excellent listeners and effective communicators.  The Standardized Patient program recruits individuals with various backgrounds in order to build a diverse pool that represents our learners’ future patients. While it’s helpful to have had some contact with doctors or other health care providers, it is not essential. A flexible schedule, willingness to respond to recruitment requests, and a commitment to working assigned sessions is necessary.

Are the hours regular?

This is an intermittent, very part-time job. One month a standardized patient might work 16 hours, the next month no hours. The hours offered depend on many variables, one of which is matching an individual to the case demographics and skill set required. In general, events are scheduled Monday-Friday between 7am and 5pm. Shift lengths are variable, but most last 3 to 5 hours.

What are the pay and benefits?

Standardized patients are paid $20 per hour for work and approved training time. Parking during work events is validated. Standardized patients are eligible for reduced-fee bus passes and use of the UW–Madison library system.

Are standardized patients involved in research?

No. Standardized patients are engaged in educational activities, not research. There are no treatments or medical procedures performed. If the session involves a physical exam, standardized patients are informed about the areas examined and may opt in or out of those cases.

Why become a standardized patient?

It’s a chance to make a difference in the education of future health care professionals and thus influence the care of future patients. Every session is a unique opportunity to interact with others and learn something new. In addition, people who work as standardized patients are often better able to navigate their own health care experiences and communicate more effectively with their care teams.

How do standardized patients know what to say?

Standardized patients are carefully coached on each case, including the relevant medical history, current symptoms, social history such as work and family life, and the demeanor and emotional state of the patient. For cases requiring a physical examination, standardized patients are taught how to move as a patient would and to accurately simulate responses while being examined.

Is there acting involved?

While acting experience is helpful, this work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments or playing to an audience. Standardized patients role-play as a given patient character. This requires remembering details about the patient and creating a real conversation with the learner, using information that is provided. It is important to focus on the learning or assessment goals for the students while accurately portraying the patient.

Is it safe?

Yes. Standardized patients review the cases before they are assigned and are never asked to participate in situations (physical or psychological) which may make them uncomfortable. The physical examinations are very basic and designed to not cause harm to the standardized patient. Most encounters are video recorded and/or observed by faculty or staff as they happen.

What are physical exams like?

The physical examinations* are much like those performed in a doctor’s office. The student may:

  • Listen to heart and lungs with a stethoscope
  • Press on the abdomen to identify any tenderness or swelling
  • Look into eyes, ears, nose and throat
  • Take blood pressure and pulse
  • Check reflexes
  • Assess muscle strength

*There are no invasive procedures or exams that involve genital areas or breasts.

What do standardized patients wear?

For cases that do not require physical examinations, standardized patients wear street clothes or clothing appropriate to the case. If the students are expected to perform a physical examination, standardized patients may wear a hospital gown with undergarments and shorts underneath.