University of Pittsburgh

Standardized Patient Program

Photo of medical student.


The Standardized Patient Program, coordinated through the Advanced Clinical Education Center (ACEC) is dedicated to providing medical students with the opportunity to become more compassionate communicators and influential members of the medical community. A division of the Office of Medical Education, ACEC is integral to the medical school curriculum, ensuring the opportunity in each curricular year for experiential, hands on learning to enrich the student’s educational experience. Since its inception in 2001, the program has grown annually to support more than 45 teaching and testing sessions that run reiteratively throughout each academic year within the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, School of Dental Medicine and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Over 130 Standardized Patients in the program are guided by a staff of six who see to it that all are thoroughly trained and ready to role play in this unique educational modality.

A Standardized Patient is someone who has been trained to portray, in a consistent, standardized manner, a patient in a medical situation. Standardized Patients, or SPs, are used by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPSOM) and by many other institutions to teach and evaluate students. SPs learn a case, based on a real patient other than themselves, and are interviewed and examined by students as though they were that person in the doctor’s office or clinic, giving that patient’s history and simulating their physical symptoms, such as pain or difficulty walking.

Most recently, the SP Program has moved beyond the realm of the University of Pittsburgh and currently provides its academic services to other organizations outside the University, thereby enhancing the visibility and reputation of the University as a leader and innovator in medical education. The ACEC, in partnership with the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education and Research (WISER), a world-class multidisciplinary training and research facility, has expanded its SP services for residency training, nursing, and other programs.

The idea of Standardized Patients began in 1964, when Howard S. Barrows MD, neurologist and medical educator at the University of Southern California, introduced the idea of a programmed patient. These patients, which later became known as standardized patients, carefully were coached to simulate an actual patient so accurately that the simulation could not be detected by a skilled clinician. The standardized patient was trained to present not just the history of a patient but also the body language, emotions, personality, and physical findings.

This site is designed for visitors who are interested in becoming SPs, students who encounter SPs in the curriculum, people who are currently SPs, and faculty or facilitators who wish to use SPs in their courses or training programs.

Please review the following links to navigate our Web site and to learn more about the Standardized Patient Program and how the staff of the Advanced Clinical Education Center can help create and ensure a rich educational experience.

Advanced Clinical Education Center
M-211 Scaife Hall
3550 Terrace Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
Phone: 412-648-8702
Fax: 412-383-7477