Beyond books: The Standardized Patient Program

Eugenia Greenfield

Eugenia Greenfield in an SP lab room.

Much has been written on medical technique, but not everything can be learned from books. Learning how to pick up on patients’ nonverbal cues or compassionately deliver bad news, while maintaining professionalism, comes from hands-on practice.

The Standardized Patient Program at Baylor College of Medicine provides students the opportunity to practice patient interactions and hone their skills in a wide range of situations—all without affecting “real” patients.

Learning to simulate patients

Actors are hired to simulate patients. They follow an assigned script, a patient characterization that they memorize and embody so students can practice taking a medical history, perform a physical examination, diagnose a physical ailment, and more.

Eugenia Greenfield went from being a standardized patient, or SP, herself to managing the Standardized Patient program. She says that she loves helping students gain firsthand experience, and that the program creates a “fast-paced, constantly changing atmosphere.”

Before SPs can participate, they undergo an application, screening, and training process, which ensures that they’ll be reliable, flexible, and maintain a positive attitude. “They must be able to take a student’s mistake and help guide them through it,” says Director Dr. Tyson Pillow.

Typically, sessions are videotaped and become a valuable educational resource as feedback to both students and SPs.

Standardized patient experience

Dr. Tyson Pillow

Dr. Tyson Pillow

Many SPs, such as Bethany Murphrey, are professional actors. She recommends the program to other actors, as it’s a flexible job that utilizes acting skills, and SPs are compensated for their time. Murphrey says the most interesting part of the program for her is seeing how the SPs bond.

“Most of the time, we’re hanging out with each other in hospital gowns and shorts!” she says, “We’ve become kind of a little family.”

Pillow says that SPs feel a sense of fulfillment by participating in the program. “They benefit from participating in work that makes a huge impact in shaping future physicians,” he says, “Even if it’s just helping a student improve a technique, they’re helping to make better physicians.”

Value of standardized patients

The SP program is integrated into many facets of the learning experience at BCM; students interact with SPs from their first month in medical school till they graduate. In their competency test at the end of training, the patient simulation experience tests everything they’ve learned, from diagnoses to counseling. The kinds of scripts that SPs receive are dependent on the students’ level of education.

The SP program helps students take the time to develop the kinds of critical skills that can’t be learned in the classroom, but are instilled through experience.

“The students love it and are appreciative for the program,” says Lariza McBean, the Simulation and Standardized Patient Program manager, “It gives them that feeling that they’re really doing what they came to school for.”

Learn more about participating in the SP program, see what a sample SP script is like, or contact Lariza McBean at 713-798-7232 to request an application for the program.

Students, how has the SP program impacted your education? Or if you’ve participated in the SP program as an actor, what was that experience like for you?

– By Jordan Magaziner

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