Standardized patient program helps train future doctors with simulated scenarios

This is the first of two in a two-part series about the things that go on behind the scenes at Scott & White that help to improve patient safety and quality of care.

docA mother and her 8-month-old little boy sit impatiently in an exam room, waiting for someone to come in and assess the infant’s symptoms. As the doctor comes into the room, he is nervous and won’t take his eyes off of his clipboard.

“What seems to be going on with little Bobby this morning?” he says still looking at his clipboard.

“He has been vomiting since last night and can’t keep anything down,” the mother explains. “He hasn’t had a wet diaper since early this morning.”

The doctor rattles off a diagnosis and tells the mother to push fluids.

“I didn’t quite understand what you were saying. I think next time you should speak directly to me and look me in the eye,” the mother says.

The patient’s mother isn’t over-stepping her boundaries. She’s actually an integral part of a simulation exercise that helps residents and medical students learn what to do when they are assessing and communicating with patients.

“[Scott & White’s Standardized Patient] program provides a learning experience for the medical students so that they can have that experience of an actual patient encounter without going into the real clinic and practicing on real sick people,” said standardized patient educator, Ms. Macy Ray.

How does the program work?

The program educators and medical school professors at the Texas A&M Science Center College of Medicine in Temple work closely to provide the most realistic scenarios in which to teach future physicians.

“The [medical school] will send us cases with specific patient criteria,” Ms. Ray said. “The case includes all of the information about this fictitious patient down to where they’ve placed a car seat in their car.”

Once the educators have identified the type of patient they need for a simulation exercise, they call standardized patients who have already signed up to be a part of the program.

What is a Standardized Patient?

An SP is a person trained to act out the role of a patient through common health examinations in a controlled environment for healthcare providers in training. Participants aren’t required to have any prior medical knowledge or acting experience.

Upon receiving a call from a standardized patient educator, you will be given a patient history to learn and memorize. Then, you will be asked to come into the hospital for training on the specific scenario in which you will be acting out. Once training is complete, you are ready to be a part of one of the simulation exercises.

Here are some other things you will be asked to do while participating in an exercise:

  • Use body language, emotions and personality traits to act like the patient you’ve been tasked to play.
  • Act out and accurately explain your medical symptoms.
  • Respond to questions from supervisors and/or physicians-in-training.
  • Undergo physical examinations related to the case.
  • Provide verbal and written feedback to the learner.

Program educators are always looking for participants to become SPs. So, if this sounds like something you might want to do, then contact the Standardized Patient Department Assistant, Ms. Jennifer Little at (254) 724-7075.

All you’ll need to be a part of the program is:

  • Reliable transportation
  • A flexible schedule
  • A good memory
  • Excellent listening skills
  • The ability to give and receive feedback
  • An interest with working with people

Because this process is quite extensive, participants are compensated for their work. But Ms. Ray said that money shouldn’t be your only motivation for being an SP.

“Standardized Patients should look at it like they are providing help and training to future doctors,” she said. “You might actually be taking your child to one of these doctors someday.”

Jose F. Pliego, MD, who is the medical director for Clinical Simulation, said that the SP program helps future physicians learn things they won’t find in a textbook.

“Without the SPs it’s really impossible to reproduce what happens in real life,” Dr. Pliego said. “The SP can interact with the healthcare provider like a regular patient and teach valuable communication skills.”

For more information about the SP program, please visit clinicalsimulationcenter.sw.org.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Standardized patient program helps train future doctors with simulated scenarios