On Being a Volunteer

Now that you have decided to volunteer to be a Standardized Patient, here are some useful tips that will help you be more effective in this role.

  • Arrive on time.
    We ask that all students, faculty and volunteers are prompt and prepared. There may be more than one examination on a given day and we must begin and end on time to ensure a fair experience for our students.
  • Try to be as accurate as possible.
    It is always important to give the students the correct facts. Try to be as consistent as possible with the information you give to each student and in the way you give it. We realize, however, you will respond differently depending upon the questions asked. So, your performance will vary somewhat from student to student.
  • It’s okay to correct yourself.
    Mistakes happen. If you give the wrong information (such as the wrong age for your mother) it is usually alright to state during the interview that you gave the wrong information; then correct yourself. This does happen with “real” patients in “real” interviews. Please do try to correct errors.
  • It is okay to ad-lib if the information is not in the script.
    The students may ask for information that isn’t in the script (e.g., where you went to college, where you work, names of relatives, birth dates, etc.). Because much of this type of information is detailed and hard to remember when we make it up for you, we allow you to make up information like this as long as it is consistent with the rest of the script. Most of the time, it is fairly easy to come up with additional information when it is requested. When you fill in a piece of information (i.e., the name of a college), try to name one you are familiar with so you will be able to supply further information about it if asked. The common requests for different types/kinds of information will become more familiar as you gain experience being a standardized patient. Students may ask you for specific dates not stated in your script (i.e., when were you born, married, graduated, etc.). It’s a good idea to have these dates figured out and memorized in advance. This will make your presentation seem more realistic.
    In making up additional information, please do not add any new essential facts to the case such as adding another symptom, family disease, or family member. Once you ad-lib a response, try to consistently give the same response to similar questions by other students who examine you.
  • Try not to anticipate the student’s next move.
    If the case you are portraying requires a physical examination you will be informed as to what procedures the students will most likely perform. There is a tendency after being examined repeatedly to anticipate the students’ next move (i.e. lying down for the abdominal exam, opening your mouth for the oral exam, etc.) A “real” patient may not know what the physician would examine next and by anticipating the students’ move, you are providing “clues” for the student.
  • Expect long pauses.
    Long pauses may occur during encounters with students. These pauses may make you feel uncomfortable. However, you should wait patiently for the student to continue. Do not volunteer information or make small talk.
  • Feeling nervous is normal.
    Almost every standardized patient is a little nervous at first; especially if your interview/exam is videotaped. As you do more simulations, and work with some very nervous students, you will find yourself becoming more and more at ease. The better prepared you are for your simulation, the less nervous you will usually be.
  • Recognize your personal biases.
    We ask that you evaluate each medical student as objectively as possible, based on their own individual strengths or weaknesses. It is important that you do not let any personal biases (either very positive or very negative) interfere with fairly assessing each student. Try not to let any past experiences with medical professionals influence how you will act and react to the students you encounter.
  • Keep ALL SP activities confidential.
    Please remember that our case materials are confidential and should not be discussed with others. In addition, how you rated a particular student should not be discussed with anyone once you leave the facility. It is best that you do not discuss specific students, their behavior, performance, appearance, or demeanor during breaks or meal times. This may influence the evaluation of volunteers who have not yet encountered these specific students.

Let us know if you might have a conflict of interest.

If you have a friend or relative in the medical school or if you are planning to attend medical school in the future, please advise us as this is a potential conflict of interest.