How Standardized Patients Work

The "Standard" in "Standardized Patient"

Standardized patients serve several training needs that are difficult to fulfill with real patients. There's the inexperience issue: If medical students are going to mess up, better to mess up on a healthy person than a sick one. There's availability: Medical schools have specific lessons to teach, and finding real patients who meet their exact curricular needs can be tough [source: GVSU]. And feedback: Real patients can't be counted on to provide accurate, constructive feedback [source: GVSU].

But perhaps the greatest advantage to using standardized patients in training and assessment is their ability to keep it, well, standardized.

All medical students in a given class are expected to learn the certain material and then show through testing they have mastered it. In a lecture class, it's relatively simple to ensure that all students are presented with the same material and being assessed on the same factors. In a clinical setting, not so much.

Ideally, SPs provide a uniform clinical experience, offering each student the same patient, the same case details and the same type of feedback [source: University of Pittsburgh]. For SPs, this means repetition. An SP might be examined by 10 medical students in a row, and each time, the "patient" has to deliver the same performance. By the 10th time, this can be a challenge [source: University of Pittsburgh].

If this sounds a lot like what teachers have to do, that's because it is. SPs are sometimes called teaching associates or clinical educators. "Some think that this is an acting job, and so we often have to debunk that misunderstanding," explains Fulmer. "We are educators, and our approach is carefully planned and predictable."

Burning for coquettish haberdashers, then, is probably out. Kramer would have been fired.

Actually, he probably wouldn't have been hired in the first place.