From Standardized Patient to Care Actor: Evolution of a Teaching Methodology

James T Hardee, MD; Ilene K Kasper, MS

Summer 2005 - Volume 9 Number 3


Standardized patients have been utilized for nearly 40 years in teaching medical curricula. Since the introduction of this teaching methodology in the early 1960s, the use of standardized patients has steadily gained acceptance and is now incorporated into medical education across the country. This "standardization" was useful for teaching and evaluating medical students and residents. However, as this modality expanded beyond medical schools to include seasoned physicians, the limitations of "one-size-fits-all" clinical scenarios became apparent. In teaching clinician-patient communication (CPC) courses to practicing physicians, we have discovered that flexibility and improvisation on the part of the actor enhances the educational experience. The term "care actor" more accurately describes this role than standardized patient. The care actors in our CPC courses have become integral contributors to the education process, serving not only as simulated patients but also as coaches and collaborators. This article outlines the history of standardized patients in medical education and presents a three-part framework for effectively using care actors to teach clinician-patient communication: setting the stage, skill practice, and providing feedback.


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