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History of the Program

Photo by Anthony DeCarlo
Standardized Patient Program
The use of standardized patients allows learners to practice and refine critical clinical skills in a safe environment where training and debriefing are readily available.

A standardized patient (SP) is a person portrayed by an actor who is indistinguishable from a real patient and who behaves in a predictable manner when interacting with a health care student or provider.

Standardized patients offer medical educators a number of opportunities in teaching: control of content, access to willing subjects, ease of scheduling, opportunities for observation and feedback to learners, and a safe learning environment for trainees to practice new skills.

The concept of the standardized patient was invented by Howard Barrows, MD, in 1963. He trained patients on the neurology service at Montefiore Hospital to simulate abnormal physical findings while being examined by medical students during their final exams. He later trained actors to simulate patients at UCLA. Within a few years, medical schools throughout North America and Europe began using standardized patients for both teaching and assessment. The National Board of Medical Examiners now uses standardized patients in the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to certify medical students' competency.

Yale’s Standardized Patient Program was founded in 1993 when Dr. Rick Haeseler, the primary care clerkship director, trained a group of eight community actors to portray patients with common symptoms such as back pain, fever, and headache. Students interviewed the actors in front of peers and received immediate feedback on their communication skills. Currently, about 35 standardized patients are involved in student education across all four years of medical school.