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School of Medicine Columbia

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    More About the SP Program

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Standardized Patient Program

The Standardized Patient Program plays an essential role in providing students during all four years of medical school, alongside other health care programs, an invaluable opportunity to enhance their training and skills within a safe and controlled environment.

About the Standardized Patient Program

The University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia launched the Standardized Patient Program in 1996 and has successfully enhanced the skills of over 2500 medical alumni. Standardized Patient participation plays a significant role in shaping the upcoming generation of health care professionals.

Standardized Patients (SPs) have been integrated into the first- and second-year Introduction to Clinical Medicine small group sessions for the purposes of introducing students to patient interactions and developing good communication and physical examination skills. Thus, the early focus is on teaching; formative assessment is often provided by the SP as part of the sessions.

At the end of the second year and during the third and fourth years of the curriculum, SPs are incorporated into assessment exercises known as Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs). SPs are also integrated into the Ultrasound Institute, Physician Assistant Program, Nurse Anesthesia Program, and the College of Nursing.

Program Details

Standardized Patients (SPs) are trained individuals who can accurately portray patients with specific medical conditions. They undergo comprehensive training to consistently recreate scenarios and problems for each student encounter. This ensures that every student sees a patient with the same medical history and physical findings. SPs can interact with learners one-on-one, or act as a simulated patient in small group discussions or problem-solving sessions to teach clinical skills. When SP encounters are used for assessment, clinical skills can be recorded using a checklist, evaluated by clinical raters, or recorded for later scoring. SPs provide a reliable and standardized approach to teaching clinical skills.

The advantages of using standardized patients in teaching and evaluating students include the following:

  • SPs can be authentic and indistinguishable from real patients.
  • SP performances are reliable and reproducible. The symptoms, emotional problems, and degree of difficulty of a patient problem presented are the same for each learner and can be matched to the learner's level of training. Students can interview an SP as many times as necessary and can openly discuss problems and complications in the SP's presence.
  • The patient problem needed for teaching or evaluation is available at any time and is not dependent on the availability of a real patient.
  • Medical students can practice interviewing and examination skills without the embarrassment and anxiety they might feel if they have to learn these skills with real patients. The SP is there to help the student learn and is not bothered by the student’s level of expertise or the need to repeat any portion of the encounter.
  • The risk of harming, tiring, or upsetting the patient is eliminated.
  • SPs can provide feedback about students' professional demeanor; interest, concern, or understanding; listening skills; appeal as a future physician; and ability to engender treatment compliance.
  • Be highly dependable and punctual.
  • Demonstrate flexibility and reliability with scheduling and assignments.
  • Reliable transportation.
  • Be willing to study prior to the scheduled training.
  • Simulate all aspects of scenarios, including a history of current problems, affect/behavior, and physical findings, in a standardized, accurate, and reliable manner.
  • Be comfortable having repeated non-invasive physical examination maneuvers performed on self.
  • Ability to maintain a specified character as trained accurately and convincingly.
  • Ability to work flexible hours on a scheduled on-call basis.
  • Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing.
  • Possess strong reading and writing skills to absorb and use detailed case training and exam procedural information.
  • Ability to recall case information, as cued by students in a role-play situation.
  • Ability to maintain confidentiality of case and student information.
  • Ability to understand and follow directions and incorporate trainer feedback.
  • Ability to recall and accurately score student behaviors.
  • Educational training and/or professional experience in health professions, communication, behavioral sciences, education, instructor, acting, or previous experience as a standardized patient preferred but not necessary.
  • Highly professional and respectful to students, faculty, staff, and members of the SP Program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, the students are aware that SPs are not real patients. Students are told to behave just as they would with real patients while conducting history and physical examinations.

You will have all the information you need in advance. You will be trained to portray the emotional state of the patient as well. For cases requiring a physical examination, you will be taught how to move as the patient would and to accurately simulate responses while being examined. 

This is an intermittent, hourly position. One month you might work 16 hours; the next month, there may not be any scheduled hours. Standardized Patients are scheduled based on the student’s curriculum. Dates are provided as far in advance as possible. The sessions typically run during the week, Monday-Friday, between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm.

Physical exams can include focused exams such as an eye exam or a complete head-to-toe physical. It depends on the learning objectives that our faculty has designed. You will need to be comfortable wearing a patient gown with appropriate undergarments and being videotaped for faculty review purposes. Please note that SP/student encounters are simulated in a controlled environment with the supervision of the School of Medicine staff. Physical exams conducted are non-invasive and do not entail any examination of the genitalia.

For cases that require no physical examinations, standardized patients wear regular clothes. If the students are expected to perform a physical examination, you will be required to wear a hospital gown while keeping your undergarments on.

Simulations are videotaped. Please note that SP/student encounters are simulated in a controlled environment with the supervision of the School of Medicine staff.  These tapes are only shared with the involved student and supervising faculty and staff. 

No, you will be considered an Independent Contractor. This employment offers no benefits other than worker’s compensation in the event of an injury on the job. There is also no guarantee of work beyond that agreed to on a single project basis. Standardized Patients are paid the rate of $20-25/hour. Please note: Full-time USC employees are not eligible to apply.

Yes, a criminal background investigation through the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is mandatory. 

The SP will be mailed a scenario 1-2 weeks prior to the session date. It is the SP’s responsibility to study the scenario and memorize all the details provided in it. On the date of the session, the SP is to be at the designated location on time and ready to begin. Punctuality and reliability are imperative. The SP will consistently portray the role as outlined in the scenario for several consecutive students while always remaining in character. The SP may be asked to provide feedback to the students with regard to the patient encounter. 

Standardized patients offer a secure and regulated simulated learning setting that enables students to prepare for actual patient interactions. By providing a uniform, consistent portrayal every time, standardized patients ensure that all students practice the same skills. This ensures that every student has an equal opportunity to showcase their clinical abilities in identical situations, creating a fair examination or learning experience for everyone.

Being a Standardized Patient is a truly rewarding opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the education of future healthcare professionals, all while having the flexibility you need in your life.

How To Apply

Are you interested in being part of the education and training of our medical students and healthcare professionals of tomorrow? Apply today!

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