Standardized Patients

What is a Standardized Patient?

Interested in finding out about our Standardized Patient Program? 

Standardized Patients (SP) are "Individuals who are trained to present the symptoms and signs of disease process as they present in real patients" (Barrows, 1985). Standardized patients have been shown to be effective in teaching clinical, interviewing and communication skills to learners from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, nursing, dental, law and other professions.

According to the Association of Standardized Patient Educators (ASPE), "An SP is a person trained to portray a patient scenario, or an actual patient using their own history and physical exam findings, for the instruction, assessment, or practice of communication and/or examining skills of a health care provider. In the health and medical sciences, SPs are used to provide a safe and supportive environment conducive for learning or for standardized assessment.

SPs can serve as practice models, or participate in sophisticated assessment and feedback of one's abilities or services. The use of simulated scenarios involving humans is rapidly expanding to meet the needs of many high-risk service fields outside of human health care." (Gliva-McConvey, n.d.)

SP can also mean standardized professional; individuals from the community can be utilized to portray a professional from many different fields challenging learners to deal with certain issues that arise in their chosen careers.


Standardization stems from systemic training and ability of the SP to follow the training outline. Standardized performances of individual cases by multiple SPs ensure fairness and objectivity. With standardization, each patient or professional represents the same case in the same way, even when interacting with different learners at different times. Learners will interact with, interview and examine the patients/professionals differently. For a particular case, the SPs' responses to questions and manners should remain constant and consistent, despite the different styles and skill level across learners and across the duration of the program.

Benefits of Standardized Patient Use

Interacting with SPs gives learners a chance to practice their clinical and interpersonal skills with an emphasis on communication before meeting actual patients. Alternately, interacting with SPs gives learners an opportunity to demonstrate competencies and to be assessed by more senior members of their professions.

For example, learners might practice pure communication skills like interviewing or delivering complex information in an understandable way (based on patient responses). In a different scenario, learners may conduct a brief history along with a physical exam on an SP. The physical exams given to SPs are similar to general internal physical examinations, are non-invasive and should not be painful. After a learner/SP performance, learners are provided feedback by a preceptor and/or their peers. An SP may also be asked to provide brief feedback, which is a component of the SP training process. The time allowed for feedback is an integral part of student learning.