For Prospective Clients


How can Standardized/Simulated Patients help my program?

SPs are trained to present a scenario in the same manner for teaching, evaluation, or both. They are trained using real, carefully constructed, and controlled scenarios. Well-prepared SPs are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing—the best of both worlds!

The mission of the SP program is to prepare SPs to realistically convey a situation to a student and do it in a consistent and measurable way, while noticing the many layers of the interaction. Mulitple SPs can be trained to do the same case. No matter which SP interacts with the student, they would receive consistent information and responses while the SP is still unique each time. This way we assure continuity of learning experiences for all.  

SPs serve education by participating in the following areas:

  • Demonstration and instruction
  • Practical skills development 
  • Individualized learner feedback 
  • Evaluation and formative assessment

SPs are not meant as replacements for experience with real patients, parents, or clients but rather as highly realistic learning opportunity. This resource helps the learner to develop skills in history taking, focused interviewing, examination, empathic communication techniques.

Why include Standardized/Simulated Patients?

SPs are trained to be aware of everything happening in an encounter. They practice taking note of observable skills and are aware of common biases to avoid. In this way,  SPs are prepared to focus on the learners' actions in order to provide accurate and objective feedback.

  • Availability:  Educators can create a convenient schedule for learners and design an optimal learning environment, based on the learning objectives of the course. SPs trained in experiential learning support the objectives of the session as needed by curriculum demands.  
  • Continuity: SPs are trained to portray details consistently, allowing each learner the same opportunity. Each learner will see the same patient problem presented in the same format. Standardization allows the educators and the learners to compare and contrast skills that can improve the patient experience.  Testing learners’ skills with SPs ensures a more predictable, reliable, and fair assessment.
  • Practice: Learners have a chance to practice interviewing skills or physical exam skills in a safe setting, where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Standardized Patients are trained to provide an environment where learners can practice a particular interview approach or try a new physical exam for the first time without risking the comfort, modesty, or safety of a "real" patient. Learners also have a chance to work in emotionally charged situations such as domestic violence, de-escalation settings, or discussing " bad-news" without risk of emotional or psychological harm to those involved. SP encounters are learner-centered , focusing on what went well, and how the learner can improve their skills.  Clinical "errors" can teach the trainee the implications of, and , through debriefing, how to correct any errors. Encounters facilitate the learners transition to care for real patients.
  • Adaptability: Cases that SPs portray can be adjusted to meet the needs of the learner, thus changing from simple to more complex.
  • Flexibility: SPs are trained to be flexible. The role play encounter can "freeze" to give learners an opportunity to discuss an issue using a technique called “time out and time in” . In this way the student can reattempt a skill with the SP if appropriate. The SP also can be directed to adjust the case to add less anger or more resistance, for example, so the learning experience can be optimized based on the level and need of the learner.

Skills where Standardized/Simulated Patients are beneficial


  • Any history taking interview
  • Complete medical history taking 
  • Focused medical history
  • Problem-based psychosocial or mental health history
  • Communication skills practice 
  • Interpersonal skills- connecting with others through empathy
  • Communication challenges such as a difficult situation, behavior change, trauma or breaking bad news
  • Addressing sensitive issues with patients like sexual dysfunction, STDs or other sensitive topics. 
  • Patient-perspective feedback and coaching

Physical Examination

  • Basic physical exam
  • Focused physical exam
  • Problem-based physical exam
  • Physical signs or findings
  • Sensitive examinations (gynecological/male genitourinary)
  • Ultrasound events


Standardized/Simulated Patients are trained to provide feedback on the learner's observable behaviors, attitude, approach and interpersonal skills. This mode of feedback can be verbal, written, or through a checklist.

Feedback can be immediate and from the patient's point of view about how the learner's skills impacted them as human beings. It is crafted to be unique to the learner and focused on what was done skillfully in addition any areas in need of improvement. 

 Standardized/Simulated Patient Events 

Courses in the School of Medicine that use SPs in teaching and assessment

  • Introduction to Medical Interviewing
  • Introduction to Physical Exam 
  • Faculty Development
  • Behavioral Medicine - focusing on approaches of behavior change through Motivational Interviewing
  • A Residency program that focuses on introducing Shared Decision Making strategies
  • Ultrasound demonstration and practice 
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Training at Children's Hospital and Duquesne University
  • Family Therapy Simulation at the School of Nursing
  • Parent-Teacher Conference Simulation at the School of Education
  • Prescription Counseling Practice at the School of Pharmacy
  • Behavioral Sciences Competency at the School of Dental Medicine
  • Pain Management & Care Simulation at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS)

Are Standardized/Simulated Patients right for your course?

See How to Incorporate SPs into Courses and Consulting and Specialized Services Offered.