Behind the Scenes with a Standardized Patient
When most people hear what I do for a living, they think of a TV show. Actually, they think of a particular episode of a TV show. My official job title is Standardized Patient. Last week I had cholecystitis and lung cancer. In the past year I’ve had pneumonia, an MRSA infection and angina. These are the same types of maladies that Kramer had to portray in an episode of Seinfeld, the one where he competed with his friend to be the best at dramatizing the assigned malady – with an emphasis on drama.
That show was hilarious and an exaggeration, but it gives me the opportunity to explain what I do. In case you’ve had experience with us and were wondering how all the magic happens, here’s just a small glimpse into our world. Training SPs for an event begins several days to several weeks in advance, depending on the complexity of the case. Medical school faculty devise the learning objectives of each event, then Simulation Center Education Specialists work with the faculty member to develop the faculty’s vision into a practical SP/learner experience. A specified number of SPs of the same demographic group meet with the Education Specialist to learn the details of the case and run practice encounters. We ask lots of questions. Most SPs have no medical knowledge other than their own doctor visits. Two to four training sessions are usual.
Some things to know about Standardized Patients:
- Many of us are professional actors and have performed on screen and stage both locally and nationally. You might have even seen some of our other work!
- Unless there’s an emergency or one of us is in imminent danger, we will never break character.
- We often memorize lots of background and personal information about our characters. Just ask us about our grandmother’s health!
- We take our jobs very seriously and are proud of the part we play in educating medical professionals.
- We are often trained on cases that are part of the curriculum year after year, so we’re called upon to repeat our symptoms again and again and again…
I think that most SPs feel as I do that there are many reasons to love this job and there are many reasons that I’ll continue to do it as long as I can. The good thing is that I’ll never get too old for it; I’ll just move up to a new demographic group.