University of Pittsburgh

Learner Frequently Asked Questions

How should I interact with a Standardized Patient?

Learners are to examine and interact with each Standardized Patient as they would with a real patient. The simulations are authentic and the situations realistic, being rooted in actual patient cases. The learners are typically given a “presenting scenario” which provides them with general background information regarding the setting and the patient they are about to see. Learners should do what they feel is necessary in order to evaluate a patient with a particular issue—it is up to the learner to decide what needs to be examined.

What happens during an encounter with a Standardized Patient?

A typical encounter with an SP may involve interviewing, counseling, or examining the patient in the same manner as a regular clinic encounter. For certain sessions, the SP is trained to provide constructive feedback to the learner from the patient’s point of view. SPs are trained to score learner performances on a specific checklist built for this type of evaluation.

What role can the Standardized Patient play in a student's training?

SP encounters provide the learner with an opportunity to practice interpersonal skills that will help them later to connect with real patients. The use of interviewing, counseling, and information gathering techniques can be tried safely even in the most emotionally charged situations such as breaking bad news, or drug and alcohol counseling. Learners also can practice physical examination techniques and receive immediate feedback regarding skills.

What are “time-out” sessions?

During some work with Standardized Patients, learners may use a “time-in and time-out” method to distinguish active interaction time with the patient from discussion time with a larger group. During time-out periods, the Standardized Patient will remain in “time-out mode” (not interacting with a learner during discussion) until the learner calls “time-in” and continues the interaction. Time-outs are called by the learner or facilitator to increase the productivity of the encounter.

How are the cases developed?

Cases are written by faculty members and administrators. Most are based on real patient scenarios.

What kind of feedback will I receive?

Feedback usually comes in two forms: oral or written. Depending on the objectives of the course or session, learners might receive one or both forms of feedback. Checklists—written feedback—usually are developed for Standardized Patients to score a learner’s performance in various categories. When you are scored by checklist, you will most often receive an online score report summarizing the checklist items missed. You may also receive more narrative written feedback that summarizes interpersonal skills. Other times, the facilitator will want the student to specifically ask an SP for information about their performance, informing the learner how the encounter made the patient feel from their perspective.

Where are Standardized Patients used in the curriculum?

Students will find SPs throughout their education - from the first-year Medical Interviewing course (at the start of first-year) to the Challenging Conversation activity (in the final weeks of the fourth-year, just prior to entering into residency). Follow the link to the course page in the Web site to view the various courses that utilize Standardized Patients.

Why do we have to work with Standardized Patients?

Research has found that encounters with SPs have certain advantages that cannot be duplicated by the use of paper problems, role playing, questionnaires, or even real patients. The advantages include: Learners are working in a controlled, reproducible clinical situation; the clinical problem is present at any time or any place; it provides a unique opportunity to practice the various skills; and, most importantly, the standardized patient can provide you with objective and unbiased feedback.

Where are Standardized Patient encounters held?

Medical students typically encounter Standardized Patients in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor classrooms of or Clinical Skills Suite of Scaife hall during their first two years of study. Standardized Patient encounters during clerkships and the Clinical Competency Assessment often take place at the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education Research (WISER) at 230 McKee Place, Suite 300, third Floor.

Learners from other disciplines should contact their course administrators to see where the encounters will take place.