Standardized Patients—An Integral Part of Medical Education Today

A recent article on Standardized Patient (SP) programs on the Association of American Medical Colleges website—Standardized Patients Teach Skills and Empathy—notes that SPs are now “an integral component of our medical education system” playing a role both in the training of medical students and in licensure: the clinical skills component of the USMLE involves seeing a series of SPs over several hours. Read the full article here.

While beginning medical students once gained their first clinical experiences by practicing on their fellow classmates now leading medical schools, including MUA, have established formal SP programs in which individuals recruited from the local community are trained to act as real patients, simulating a set of symptoms or problems. Ask a student at Medical University of the Americas about the most memorable experiences of their first semesters and many will point to the classes involving SPs.

The SP program at MUA takes place in the school’s clinical training facility. It typically starts with students standing at the door of an examination room and reading a brief case report identifying the SP’s name, age, gender and chief complaint and listing a set of specific tasks that must be completed, such as establishing rapport and gathering a medical history. Then, on cue, the student heads inside.

Everything about the experience is “standardized”—the SPs are specifically training to present the same symptoms to each student and the students must complete their assigned tasks within a set period of time. The sessions are captured on video. Afterwards, students write up a note detailing the visit, which is carefully scrutinized by MUA faculty. The SPs also complete an evaluation of each student.

It is important learning for MUA medical students, and will be part of the clinical skills testing that they will undertake later in their medical school training.


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