Standardized Patients

A Standardized Patient is a healthy individual trained to portray a clinical problem or situation for the purpose of testing or teaching specific skills in the field of health care professionals:

  • The simulation may involve a physical examination or a patient history, or both.
  • Multiple SPs can be used to portray the same patient case in a standardized way.
  • SPs are carefully selected to match essential characteristics of the patient case being portrayed, including factors such as age, gender, and appearance.
  • SPs are thoroughly trained to simulate every aspect of the patient case, from medical history and physical findings to body language and emotional characteristics.
  • SPs are evaluated for performance before the actual simulation takes place.

The UBC Standardized Patient Program recruits, trains, and supervises a pool of more than 500 SPs, who are used in projects ranging from teaching in small-group settings to large-scale structured clinical exams (OSCEs). These projects take place at all educational levels from the first through fourth years.

The program also provides SPs for high stakes national exams such as the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Exam (MCCQEII) for medical graduates who studied in Canada, the National Assessment Collaboration exam (NAC) for international medical graduates, and The Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada's exams for trained pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The program is primarily a resource for faculty in teaching and assessing students in the MD Undergraduate Program. Projects are undertaken in collaboration with course developers and course directors. Our work includes creating and reviewing cases, providing expertise on SP-related issues, and facilitating the use of SPs as a dynamic learning resource.

Trained SPs are comparable to real patients and are better suited to the teaching and assessment process. Since SPs are healthy individuals, symptom presentation can remain stable and standardized. Levels of difficulty can be controlled and tailored to the level of learner being taught or assessed. SPs carry lower risk than real patients, since no inconvenience or discomfort is caused to real patients with real concerns. Finally, multiple SPs can be trained to portray the same case in a standardized way, allowing a large volume of learners to have the same experience and be individually and fairly assessed.

Standardization ensures that all portrayals of a case unfold as identically as possible. SPs are trained to give responses and portray symptoms that are consistent among SPs as well as consistent from one encounter to the next. Responses must be consistent in content and in volume (the amount of information given at once). SPs are also trained to respond to unexpected questions in a standardized way. This enables us, as much as possible, to offer students a fair and standardized learning or assessment experience.

Commitment: Our program is built on SPs who are punctual, prepared, and dependable.

Comfort with role playing: SPs must be able to naturally and believably portray the required patient and foster a sense of reality.

Non-judgment: SPs need to exercise compassion for the patients they are portraying as well as the students and doctors that interview them. SPs are required to play characters who are of different backgrounds or belief systems from their own. SPs should be able to work on cases with unflattering characters without prejudice and personal opinions getting in the way.

Good memory: SP cases contain a lot of detailed information that SPs must memorize and repeat accurately without a script in hand.

Ability to take direction: To standardize, we direct SPs to change their portrayals to match one another.

Communication: In timed encounters, it is essential for SPs to offer concise and direct responses.

Strong judgment: Despite our best training efforts, SPs will sometimes be asked unexpected questions. SPs must be able to apply general training principles and provide benign answers.

Attention to detail: Raising questions in training sessions is essential to the process of fine tuning a case and case portrayal.

English proficiency: A certain degree of language proficiency is required for SP work. In timed encounters, questions must be quickly and easily interpreted and answers formulated and delivered in time as well.

Comfort with physical examination: Some of our SP cases involve non-invasive physical exams. SPs should feel comfortable wearing a patient gown, being examined by exam candidates, and being examined by trainers in front of a group.

Physical stations test a student's ability to perform a focused physical exam. If an SP is required to simulate a specific symptom this is referred to as a finding. Physical cases include a brief background history and occasionally there will be a small finding for the SP to simulate. Physicals with findings require SPs to simulate actual symptoms, which must be standardized.

History stations test a student's ability to interview and gather information from the patient. These cases contain extensive information for SPs to memorize. SPs may also need to simulate symptoms. Some histories are more basic and some can demand more emotional or behavioral affect to be simulated.

Counselling stations require students to obtain a relevant history and impart information to a patient. These cases are driven by a series of SP questions.

History/Physical stations combine both interview and physical exams into one encounter, often with the presence of physical findings.

An OSCE is an Objective Structured Clinical Exam in which students rotate through a timed circuit of clinical cases. SPs are situated in clinic rooms and are examined or interviewed by a succession of individual students as they move through a circuit.

There is a physician examiner in the room with the SP who marks the students on their performance.

Recruitment begins several weeks before a project, and is done by email only. Because of time constraints, many cases are recruited on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that a large number of SPs receive the recruitment email, and those that reply first will be hired for the project. Even if you receive the email later, please reply with your availability. Often, spots are still open and even if they’re full, we keep you on a waitlist in case another SP drops out of the project.
When you receive a recruitment email, it is essential to reply as soon as possible whether you are available or not. SPs that do not reply to recruitment emails whatsoever jeopardize their participation in the SP program, as we keep track of and sometimes dismiss unresponsive SPs.

Recruitment emails contain the following information:

• Date of project • Location of project • Rate of pay • Training dates • Whether the case is a history or a physical • Possible screening questions

Recruitment emails are confidential and cannot be shared, not even with other SPs. We select our recruitment lists carefully, depending on the requirements of the case and project. Not all SPs are suitable for all cases.

We recruit SPs based on a case’s specific needs, which include age, gender, body type, physical attributes, acting ability, etc.

Once confirmed for a project, you must make note of your training dates, times, and locations. Book them into your calendar.

Most cases require two two-hour training sessions spaced a week apart. Sessions are usually scheduled for the two-week period preceding a project to ensure that information is retained. Difficult or complex cases may require extra training, and simple physicals may only require one session.
Reviewing your calendar and commitments is crucial because the exam schedules do not allow for last minute dropouts.

Payment is on a per-project basis and is processed via financial services. Cheques or Electronic Fund Transfers (EFT) typically take 4-8 weeks to be received. T4A slips will be issued annually including all of the payments you received from UBC. External exams will also issue T4A slips.

SPs are required to complete a project in order to be paid for it. The pay rate for projects depends on the complexity of the SP role and ranges from $20 to $25/hour. We pay a minimum of two hours per training session and a minimum of four hours per project day. We do not pay overtime for project days.

Who can and can't be an SP?

We welcome healthy individuals between the ages of 16 and 80. Individuals with serious or numerous medical problems are not suitable for SP work. We cannot accept any pre-med or medical students.

What is the time commitment of being an SP?

Trainings happen between 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. OSCEs take place on weekends. We do not offer trainings on weekends. Cases requiring teenagers or HPs train in the evening.

What is training like?

In your first training, your trainer will explain the project and the nature of the case you’re doing. You’ll find out the level of the students or candidates that you’ll encounter, the objectives of the assessment or teaching session, whether your case includes a physical exam, and what you will be wearing for the simulation. You will receive your case package, which includes a project information sheet, consent/confidentiality form, case materials, and payment form. You must bring this package with you to each training and to the project.
Your trainer will review the case with the group, highlighting important information and answering questions from the group. Some trainers will do a round robin, which is a group interview where SPs take turns answering questions. The trainer may ask an SP to try a full one-on-one interview to demonstrate how the case might run. If the case involved pickup or review, the trainer will run all SPs off book (fully memorized). Cases that are especially complex may have a second training before the dry run.

What happens after the first training?

After you have learned the case and reviewed it in a training you will come back for a dry run. The dry run is the final session with your trainer before the project. You are expected to come with your case fully memorized. At the dry run, each SP must demonstrate their portrayal in an interview or examination performed by the trainer. Dry runs are done in front of the group to allow SPs to standardize with one another. For some of our higher-stakes exams, the dry run is performed by a physician.
If you are doing a case that involves a physical exam, you are expected to wear what is required for the exam (gown and underwear, for example). Your trainer will communicate expectations for dress either before or at the first training.

How do standardized patients differ from volunteer patients?

SPs are trained to play a role, whereas Volunteer Patients (VPs) are people who volunteer to participate as themselves.

How is SP work different from acting?

This work has nothing to do with finding dramatic moments or playing to an audience. It has everything to do with disciplining yourself within the needs of the case and the exam. It may be appropriate for you to appear anxious, irritable, or confused during an interview if that is part of the training scenario. When working as an SP it is important that you portray the case exactly the same way for every student or candidate who interviews you.

Do the medical students know we are not real patients?

Yes, the students are aware that you are SPs and are told to proceed just as they would with real patients while doing their interviews and physicals. Working with SPs is a regular practice during medical school and therefore well understood by the students.

Do I need to be an actor to work as an SP?

No, though a background or interest in acting is an asset. Some cases require the use of actors, but a majority of cases are simple and straightforward enough for non-actors to portray.

How often can I expect to be called for work?

Our needs vary based on the demographics needed for each project. You may be recruited as seldom as once or twice per year or as often as a dozen times per year. We cannot guarantee any frequency of work and request your understanding of this matter.

Being an SP sounds like easy money. Can anyone do it?

No, being an SP is hard work and involves long days. The extra focus that is required during the exams as well as the detail oriented study and preparation makes SP work a skill that is not for everybody.

Standardized Patient Program
MD Undergraduate Program
UBC Faculty of Medicine
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
2775 Laurel Street, 11th Floor
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
sp.admin@ubc.ca

Joy Hill
Program Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 68791
joy.hill@ubc.ca

Tamara Chandon
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 22909
tamara.chandon@ubc.ca

Lynn Mockler
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 68792
lynn.mockler@ubc.ca

Sasha Singer-Wilson
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 21489
sasha.singer-wilson@ubc.ca

Alex Strong
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 68765
alex.strong@ubc.ca

Paul Ternes
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 66873
paul.ternes@ubc.ca

Deanna Wong
SP Trainer | Project Manager
(604) 875-4111 ext 62085
deanna.wong@ubc.ca

Achille Gardellini
SP Program Site Coordinator
(604) 875-4111 ext 21805
achille.gardellini@ubc.ca

Apply Now

Standardized Patient


Standardized Health Professional

Please only fill and submit this form if you are a health professional interested in working with the SP Program. If you are an actor looking to apply to work as a Standardized Patient, please complete the Standardized Patient form.

Please direct any inquiries about the program to sp.admin@ubc.ca.