Are you just starting in the standardized/simulated patient (SP) field? Maybe you have been working as a SP for a while and are looking for a few fresh tips.
This is truly an exciting, enlightening, and beneficial field, but it can also be a lot to process, believe me. I have been working as a standardized patient for about 7 years and since have also begun to dabble in training other SPs. Throughout my time, I have learned a lot. Both from my own experiences and from SPs with far more knowledge than me.
I want to share a few tips and tricks that I have used to enhance my performance. Hopefully it helps you too, whether you are brand new, or an old pro.
Never. Stop. Learning.
There is a lot to learn in the standardized/simulated patient world: medical terms, patient cases, checklists, physical exams, communication feedback structures, etc. That does not even take into account the logistical elements that may shift for each location you work at (i.e. tracking time, scheduling events, navigating spaces, etc.). AND THEN, once you feel like you have a handle on it, something changes. You have a new case, you learn more detail, etc. Learning all of this can be overwhelming.T it from someone who entered the field equipped with little knowledge and a mean perfectionist streak. So, with that in mind, never stop learning. Learn from the trainers (obviously), other SPs, the students, the faculty, and your own experiences. I have found that approaching these experiences with a learning mentality makes mistakes much more manageable.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
I have found it important to practice clear, concise communication. This matters not only when performing as a SP, but also when doing the administrative work such as scheduling, training, etc.
- For the more administrative work, be clear about your availability or lack thereof, and also if/when that availability changes. As a trainer, I am more upset with poor (or missing) communication than I am about limited availability or scheduling changes. The same applies to personal boundaries in regards to exams to be performed or subject matters to be discussed in cases.
- When it comes to a performance, communication becomes important for writing feedback. Clear, concise feedback focused on objective behaviors (like body language, eye contact, rate of speech, etc) followed by how you felt tends to be the most beneficial. Feedback with anecdotes or superfluous language can be difficult to digest.
- Buy a thesaurus. Truly, do it. Or at the very least, explore lists of feeling words, like this one from Tom Drummond.
Memorize. Then Forget.
Wait…what? Okay, so I don’t mean to actually forget. Instead, before a performance put in the time to memorize your case, your checklist, your physical exam, etc., basically anything you will need to be successful in the room. Spend enough time with it so that when you are actually performing (i.e. interacting with a learner), you are able “forget” all of that and focus on the listening to the learner. Provided you put in the time, you can trust that you will respond correctly, and focus more on being present for the encounter.
It is not about us.
As you may have gathered from the previous points, as a standardized patient, we have a lot to keep track of. However, at the end of the day, it is not about us. We are a very important step in the process of helping to educate future (and sometimes current) medical professionals. Our job is to support learners through accurate assessment, concise and applicable feedback, and appropriate and open portrayals. I find it helpful to remind myself of this.
SPN would like to thank Matthew for sharing his insights with us. Matthew can be reached at via his email or his LinkedIn page: