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The Role of a Simulated Participant

Photo by Anthony DeCarlo
Medical and physician associate (PA) students practice a ​communications approach known as, shared decision making, in the Women’s & Children’s Health Clerkship. Our SPs are portraying a "mother" and "daughter" in this encounter.
What does a simulated participant do? Standardized patients were introduced to medical education in 1963 by Howard Barrows, MD, a neurologist at Southern Illinois University. Standardized patients were trained to simulate abnormal physical findings as they were examined by medical students during their qualifying evaluations. Dr. Barrows later trained actors to simulate a wide range of patients at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine. Within a few years, medical schools throughout North America and Europe began using standardized patients for teaching, assessment, and research.

Fast forward to 2021, we hire individuals as temporary employees at Yale, following best practices in the field of simulation, to portray a wide variety of roles: from patient, to parent, to clinician. Our educational encounters are primarily sought to enhance communication skills, offering a safe, supportive, and controlled learning environment for trainees to grow in their clinical abilities.

SPs are trained extensively to portray their character’s role to fulfill specific learning objectives. In standardized sessions, SPs bring a consistent, measurable portrayal of their character so that each trainee receives the same experience. In simulated work, the SP is given a character with guidelines of their chief concern and social and medical histories; the SP then responds in an improvisational manner while remaining in character.