Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Standardized Patient Program

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What is a Standardized Patient?


Standardized Patients (SPs) are independent specialists trained to portray patient scenarios for the instruction and assessment of clinical skills of medical students, residents, fellows and other diverse professionals.

SPs were first introduced in medical education in the early 1960s.

As the name implies, SPs offer a standardized, controlled experience for learners. Sessions are measurable and reproducible, unlike peer role-play or the use of actors who haven’t received professional SP training.

SPs receive rigorous training to maintain a consistent, highly realistic portrayal. They’re also prepared extensively to give feedback to trainees on communication and interpersonal skills, and in many cases, to complete scoring checklists.

SP methodology is acknowledged by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) as a valid, reliable tool for training and evaluation in the undergraduate and graduate medical education settings.

The use of SPs facilitates practice in critical thinking, patient safety, crisis management, team interaction, decision making and communication skills in addition to acquisition of competence in clinical techniques and procedures.

Independent studies have validated that SPs provide a high level of skill acquisition and retention equivalent to that achieved with the use of physician faculty for basic skills. The cost savings associated with using SPs instead of physicians has been well-documented.

Penn SP Program Facts

- Penn Med’s SP program started in 1997, as one of the pilot sites for the USMLE’s Clinical Skills Assessment, the precursor to the Step 2 Clinical Skills Exam. That same year, SPs were incorporated into the Introduction to Clinical Medicine and Doctoring courses for medical students.

- Based in the Perelman School of Medicine since its inception, the Penn SP Program continues to support medical students and graduate medical education groups throughout the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS). The program has been expanding yearly to support all levels of education across disciplines—including both healthcare and non-healthcare professions.

- The SP Program’s list of clients continues to grow steadily; the School of Medicine and UPHS are only two entities we serve. In light of this rapid growth, and as new applications for SPs emerge beyond the traditional, we are beginning to recognize SPs as Standardized Professionals.

- Programs are customizable to meet discipline- and curriculum-specific goals, while applying industry best practices and scientific rigor to each event.

- Our pool of talented SPs come from many walks of life—performing arts, education, finance, law enforcement, and human services to name just a few.

- We are committed to recruiting SPs who represent a wide demographic range in terms of ethnicity, age, gender, LGBT, body types, physical abilities.

- Our full-time staff have many years of experience in the SP field, on both regional and national levels.