Standardized Patient Simulation

What is a Standardized Patient?

A standardized patient (SP) is an individual trained to portray a specific patient case in a consistent manner.  Our SPs are generally healthy lay people who have been trained to portray a real patient's case in a testing situation.  The SP is trained to present a patient history and (sometimes) physical symptoms.  The word "standardized" means that the standardized patient repeats his or her story in a consistent manner to numerous students. During an interaction with a student, the SP presents the case history in response to questioning by the student and/or undergoes physical examinations at the student's direction.  At the end of the encounter the SP provides constructive verbal feedback to the student.

Our SPs come from all walks of life and are between 12-90 years of age.  Many have backgrounds in education, social work, or some medical profession, but all must possess excellent communication skills.  A flexible schedule, transportation, and punctuality are essential.

What happens in a typical SP exercise?  

Students rotate from station to station, alone or in groups or pairs.  A faculty member is sometimes also in the room, observing the students and using a checklist for grading.  The student begins the exercise by interviewing and/ or examining the SP for 10-15 minutes, depending on the exam.  The SP completes the grading evaluation forms.  Afterwards the SP "breaks role" provides the student with verbal feedback based on their performance.  We do run many types of clinical assessment exams, and not all follow this pattern.  Often faculty will be in the room observing and grading the students.

How is this different from acting? 

This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments or playing to an audience.  It has everything to do with disciplining yourself within the needs of the case and exam.  It may be appropriate for you to appear anxious, irritable, or confused during an interview if that is part of the training scenario.  The ability to improvise is very helpful. 

People who are interested in students and in learning, who are excellent listeners and who can focus on the educational goals of the session make good standardized patients. It isn't necessary to have a medical background or vocabulary. In fact, the Standardized Patient Program strives to involve as many diverse people as possible.

How do I know what to say when the medical student interviews me?

You will be trained by reviewing a "patient case" or script detailing the current medical problem, past medical history, family and social situation, and emotional state you will need to portray.  You will learn to appear as the patient by using specific body language, movement, and responses to physical examination.  For cases requiring a physical exam you will know how to move as the patient would and also simulate findings while being examined.  We will occasionally have you come in to our center for formal training sessions with other SPs.  When working as an SP it is important that you portray the case the exactly the same way for every student who interviews you. 

Will I undergo a physical exam or have to remove my clothing? 

For patient cases that require no physical examination, SPs wear street clothes.  If the students are expected to perform a physical examination, you may be required to wear a hospital gown.  The cases that require these physical examinations are outlined for SPs prior to their agreement to participate in them.

Do I have to decide whether or not the student passes? 

No.  Part of your job as an SP is to give verbal feedback to the students on their interpersonal skills from your perspective as the patient.  Faculty ultimately decides whether or not the student passed the exercise.  We do have some exams in which the SP uses a checklist to grade the students.  We provide rigorous training for these exams.

How often would I work?

The work is temporary, part-time, and seasonal.  SP sessions are scheduled according to student needs and program requirements.  Some SPs will only work 2 or 3 days a year and others may work ten days in a month.  SPs who arrive on time and perform satisfactorily are given first preference for future work, depending on need and case requirements.


Here is a list of expectations for our SPs:

  • Be comfortable with their health and dealing with health professionals
  • Be willing to be videotaped for educational purposes.  
  • Not have any biases against anyone based on their gender, race, religion, national origin, physical characteristics, etc.
  • Be reliable and punctual to scheduled events, and flexible with your schedule.
  • Keep all case information confidential.
  • Repeatedly portray a patient case with accuracy as trained by OHSU faculty or staff.
  • Have strong verbal communication skills.
  • Be comfortable giving both positive and constructive feedback after being interviewed or examined.
  • Have the desire to contribute to the training process of excellent physicians.

Thank you for your interest!  Please call me directly if you have any questions.

Please note that all SP openings will be located at OHSU's job portal.

Thank you, 
Tru Chatelain
Standardized Patient Program Coordinator 
503-494-5425 /