College of
Human
Medicine

Simulated Patient Program

The Michigan State University Simulated Patient Program is a dynamic educational resource dedicated to enhancing all facets and levels of health professional training. It employs more than 300 simulated patients (SPs) to portray cases for the Colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, and the College of Nursing at four locations. Through the work of simulated patients, students gain real world, hands-on experience in a variety of settings and scenarios. 

What are simulated patients? 
Simulated Patients are people from all age, race, and socioeconomic backgrounds who have been selected carefully to participate in mock doctor-patient encounters. SPs are specifically trained to recreate accurately and consistently the history, personality, physical findings, and emotional structure and response pattern of an actual patient at a particular point in time. They offer students in medical education the opportunity to practice communication and examination skills and also provide feedback to the students. 

Who can be an SP? 
Anyone who is interested in shaping the future of medicine can be an SP. Simulated patients are people from all age, race, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

What are the job requirements to be an SP? 
Being an SP takes energy, memorization, discipline, concentration, excellent communication skills, and a high level of comfort with your body. SP work requires concentration while being interviewed and examined.

You must be able to:

  • Respond exactly as a real patient would
  • Maintain not only the patient's character but also simulate their physical condition during an encounter
  • Recall the student's performance and record it on a checklist when the encounter is over

You may also be required to provide verbal feedback directly to the student. You will repeat these tasks many times in succession without change. 

How will I, as an SP, know what to say when the students interview me? 
Simulated patients are given a “patient case” or script detailing the current medical problem, past medical history, family and social situation, and emotional state they will need to portray. SPs will learn to appear as the patient by using specific body language, movement, and responses to physical examination. Patients may also be trained to look for specific student responses and skills, to record them, and to give feedback to the students on their performances. 

Will the students know I am not a real patient? 
All students are aware that they are seeing SPs, and they are asked to perform histories and physical examinations just as they would with real patients. 

Will I have to grade the student? 
Simulated patients may be asked to complete a checklist as a record of the encounter, and they may sometimes be asked to subjectively rate clinical skills. SPs might also be asked to provide both positive and constructive feedback to the students based on their performances. 

What type of physical examination will be done? 
Some SPs do only an interview with no physical examination. In other learning experiences, students perform focused physical examinations based on the patient case. These examinations may include:

  • Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope
  • Pressing on the abdomen, neck, face, and limbs
  • Using a scope to look in the ears, eyes, nose, and throat
  • Taking an SP's pulse and blood pressure
  • Checking muscle strength, reflexes, range of motion, and gait

There are specific learning experiences where students learn to perform breast, pelvic, genital, or rectal examinations on simulated patients. SPs will never be required to undergo invasive procedures (blood draw, X-ray, throat cultures). 

Will I have to remove my clothing? 
Certain exams do require SPs to disrobe, but typically you will remain in your clothes. A hospital gown will be provided during the sessions and we will do everything we can to assure your comfort. 

Will I need to know a lot about medicine? 
No. Patient cases will contain all the information you will need for portrayal and feedback. 

Is my previous health history important? 
It might be. Each patient is matched with a case. An SP who has had an appendectomy could not portray a patient with appendicitis. However, a surgical scar might not matter in a case about a headache or wrist pain. Answers on the SP application will help program staff match the SP to appropriate patient cases. 

How are simulated patients selected? 
As an SP, you will use a wide range of skills. An SP will need to role play and work with a varied group of people. It is important that you are comfortable with your body and letting others touch and examine it. Strong written and verbal communication skills are required. Punctuality, reliability, and flexibility are imperative. 

Do I need to be an actor? 
No, although many actors work as SPs. The focus is on providing the student with an educational opportunity, not on performance or dramatic interpretation. Playing a patient case is extremely repetitive, as exactly the same simulation must be done for every student encounter in a specific session. Many actors and nonactors find this work rewarding. You will contribute to the education of future health care providers, and many students are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with SPs and receive feedback on their skills. 

How often would I work? 
SP sessions are scheduled according to student needs and program requirements; it is considered “occasional” employment. SPs who perform satisfactorily are given first preference for future work, depending on need and case requirements. 

If you are interested in becoming a Simulated Patient, please fill out the SP application and fax it to (616) 234-2748 or mail it to: 

Clinical Skills
Michigan State University 
College of Human Medicine
15 Michigan St. NE, Suite 553
Grand Rapids, MI 49503