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The first “standardized patients” were used by Dr. Howard Barrows in 1963. Dr. Barrows referred to those first SPs as “programmed patients” and they have been called by a variety of names since, including patient instructor, patient educator, professional patient, surrogate patient, teaching associate, and—the more generic term—simulated patient.

In recent years SP methodology has expanded beyond the medical world to include simulations with students in a wide variety fields, including education, spiritual care, law, police training and many other fields. These individuals are often referred to as Standardized or Simulated Individuals (SI).

What all of these terms refer to is a person who has been carefully trained to take on the characteristics of a real patient or other person in order to provide an opportunity for a student to learn or be evaluated on skills firsthand.

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What advantages are there in using standardized patients (SP)?

While working with the standardized patient, the student can experience and practice clinical medicine without jeopardizing the health or welfare of real, patients. It takes the process of learning a step beyond the books and away from reliance on paper and pencil tests. It allows the learner to have an encounter with a living, breathing, responding human being.

In non-medical settings the SI can provide the same opportunity to practice communication skills without the risk of doing harm as the student develops these skills.

Standardizing the simulation allows every student to experience the same individual with the same characteristics and challenges.

How common is the use of SP/SI?

Since Dr. Barrows trained those first SPs in the mid-1960’s, human simulation has become an integral part of medical education all around the world. SP/SI are commonly used with all sorts of students learning clinical skills, as well as students developing their interpersonal skills in many other fields.