Standardized Patients

A Standardized Patient (SPs) is an actor trained to portray symptoms and behaviors.

Nursing student interacting with a Standardized Patient

The best preparation for the human side of health care is practice with real people. That is why SMU engages actors as Simulated/Standardized Patients (SP). An SP is trained to portray a patient in circumstances like those that might occur in a real clinical setting. In addition to the physical symptoms of a specific medical diagnosis, an SP is prepared to tell stories, express emotions, show stress, and exhibit attitudes toward the medical profession. The portrayal should be so convincing that even a skilled clinician might think the performance is real.

First introduced in the 1960s, SPs are now widely used in health science education. At SMU, they participate in hybrid scenarios with manikins and in a growing portfolio of realistic SP-only scenarios developed by faculty and staff. Their purpose is threefold:

  • SPs create a safe environment for practice. By interacting with SPs, students gain firsthand experience without jeopardizing the health, welfare and privacy of real patients.
  • SPs allow for immediate feedback. In a de-briefing that follows the scenario, students learn—from faculty, fellow students, the SPs themselves, and often from a video playback of their own performance—what they have done correctly and incorrectly. Faculty are then able to tailor subsequent SP encounters to address identified weaknesses.
  • SPs provide an objective measure for evaluation. Because SPs are trained to reproduce the same set of behaviors and attributes with each performance, faculty may compare one student’s clinical competencies against others. Researchers too benefit from the standardized data that comes from an SP scenario repeated again and again with different students.


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