BY AMBER SMITH
One way future doctors and other health care providers learn is by practicing on people who pretend to be patients.
Upstate Medical University has a corps of paid “standardized patients” who are trained to portray certain medical situations for students who conduct exams for practice before caring for real patients. Afterward, students receive feedback from faculty instructors and from the patients.
“As instructors, we can give feedback from our expertise about communications, about what we saw as third parties,” says Steve Harris, director of Upstate’s clinical skills center. “What we can’t tell them is how did that patient feel when you were interacting with them. That’s what standardized patients can do that nobody else can do. They’re here to say, ‘This is how you made me feel.’ They’re going to give the student some feedback, so that hopefully when the student encounters a similar patient in the real world, they will have a better understanding of how their behaviors make patients feel.”
Annette Adams-Brown has been a standardized patient since 2003. She has pretended to have abdominal pain, diabetes and osteoporosis, among other diagnoses. She has a background in theater production and acting, but both she and Harris stress that is not a requirement.
“It’s very rewarding work, to know that you’re contributing to the educational quality of the medical industry,” she says. “Communication plays such a huge role in all walks of life.”
Standardized patients work on a temporary, as-needed basis.
They have to be at least 16 years old, with the ability to read and speak English. Harris says the program is especially in need of people in their 30s and 40s and people from a variety of ethnicities, races and sexual orientations. No acting experience or medical knowledge is needed.
“This is about education,” says Harris. “Our point here is to help our students be better communicators.”
To learn more or to apply for work as a standardized patient, visit upstate.edu/standardpatient/