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JAMA Patient Page
September 7, 2005

Standardized Patients

JAMA. 2005;294(9):1172. doi:10.1001/jama.294.9.1172

Standardized patients are trained actors who portray patients during an interview and physical examination with a medical student or doctor in training. As part of medical education, medical schools now often use standardized patients to depict realistic patient interactions and presentations of disease. These standardized patients discuss their symptoms with the student. The medical student in turn conducts a patient interview and then may perform a physical examination. Through these interviews, medical students learn how to communicate with patients in a situation that does not require the use of actual patients. The September 7, 2005, issue of JAMA is a theme issue devoted to articles about medical education.


Standardized patient interviews are one of several methods for teaching clinical skills and measuring the abilities of medical students and doctors in training. These simulated interactions help students identify the symptoms (subjective patient experiences) and signs (objective abnormalities) of a particular disease. The student is able to improve his or her physical examination skills in order to aid in making an accurate diagnosis. In addition, standardized patients come from diverse backgrounds and expose students to important cultural issues. Thus, the medical student can learn how to identify and understand the physical, emotional, social, and cultural impact of illness.

Standardized patients are often trained to measure the interviewing and examining skills of the student with whom they interact. In addition, experienced instructors may observe the standardized patient interview and physical examination to evaluate clinical skills and recommend improvements. To become a licensed physician in the United States, medical students are now required to pass a clinical skills assessment with standardized patients as part of their medical licensing examinations.


In addition to live actors, computerized mannequins can also be used to model patients. Using high-tech devices, life-sized patient mannequins simulate the human body and allow students to listen to breath and heart sounds, feel pulses, measure vital signs, and much more. Students can perform medical interventions such as intubation (insertion of a breathing tube into the airway), medication injections, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (a procedure to restore breathing and circulation). These techniques help students learn to respond quickly and accurately to acute illness situations before they encounter them in real patients. Mannequins also allow students to practice medical procedures before attempting them on patients.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at A Patient Page on medical education was published in the September 6, 2000, issue; one on continuing medical education was published in the September 4, 2002, issue; one on medical specialties was published in the September 3, 2003, issue; and one on academic health centers was published in the September 1, 2004, issue.

Sources: Association of American Medical Colleges, National Board of Medical Examiners

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.