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The Role of a Standardized Patient in Medical Education

Mary Cay Jansen thoroughly enjoys her role as a standardized patient at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Since 2000, she has participated in approximately 39 scenarios over 3600 times. A standardized patient or SP is an individual trained to simulate a specific medical condition. SPs provide an important function in teaching and evaluating medical students and residents. Their role allows future physicians and doctors-in-training the opportunity to practice physical exams and communication skills in patient interviewing while receiving beneficial feedback.

Mary Cay learned of the program through a friend who worked at the Medical College. “She told me they were looking for morbidly obese patients,” she says with a smile. Since that time, her weight has improved through Weight Watchers. Mary has participated in scenarios for the Departments of Medicine, Obstetrics, Neurology, Family Medicine and even Pediatrics, where she performed the role of a grandmother of an abused child. Individuals 18 years of age and older from all backgrounds and experiences may become a standardized patient. SPs should be responsible, patient and possess an interest in educating students. However, no prior medical knowledge or acting experience is required.

Asked if she prepares or rehearses for the modules, Mary Cay states “I rehearse all the time and actually role play with other standardized patients.” Deborah Amos, Administrative Assistant, and Sharon Galewski, Program Coordinator in the STAR Center also provide extensive training to all the SPs. Mary Cay loves to work with medical students the most – when they are “green and want to learn.” She feels her knowledge and training as an SP allows her to determine who will be a good practitioner in the future. The month of May is typically her busiest time, as Benchmark Objective Structured Clinical Exams (B-OSCEs) are given to all third year medical students.

One of her most memorable experiences was with a student named Wendy*. Mary Cay had been a standardized patient for Wendy many times and felt a connection. However, the day of her final exam, Wendy did not do well. After the exam, Mary Cay asked what was wrong and Wendy “fell apart. She had been in an accident and her purse was stolen.” Mary Cay felt certain Wendy had the potential to be a good physician and assured the student she would be fine.

Would she recommend this “job” to others? Mary Cay laughs and says, “No, I love it too much. I want to keep all the hours to myself.” She has also assisted as an SP at Marquette University in their physician assistant program. She notes that the university asks for standardized patients from the Medical College because of their training and expertise. She also states that her own health care providers approach her differently once they know about her role as an SP. They are more thorough in the physical examination and ask many more questions during history taking.

She reiterates that her greatest reward as an SP comes from watching students evolve from a person who is nervous and unsure to “owning it;” that is, becoming a confident and poised individual who believes in themselves. The interview ends with Mary Cay declaring, “I would be their biggest cheerleader if I was age and size appropriate.”

Article written by Kathy A. Rafel, Medical Education Coordinator

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© 2015 Medical College of Wisconsin
Page Updated 01/19/2012