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Simulated Patient (SP) methodology for communication training in any discipline

Val Fulmer


Introduction: The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Standardized Patient (SP) Program has assisted with communication skills training in medical and other health science departments since 2002. We will explore how the realism of training interpersonal communication skills with Simulated/Standardized Patient (SP) “role play” can enhance the quality and versatility of any communication-based evaluation or training in health and a variety of other environments.

Description: Since the early 1960s, collaborations with the dramatic arts have been leveraged in “educational acting” within medical schools around the world. Formal programs that employ SPs to teach and test interpersonal skills using educational “role play” techniques are now common. An SP is defined as “a person trained to consistently portray a patient or other individual in a scripted scenario for the purposes of instruction, practice, or evaluation”. SP methodology is a powerful tool to utilize when training objectives relate to the understanding of individual perspectives, cultural, technical and professional behaviors.

Program Results: Initially formed to support the School of Medicine, the desire for collaborative and interprofessional learning has expanded our program’s scope to include seven other health sciences within the University. As interpersonal communication skills have been shown to improve patient-centric care and customer satisfaction, this training provides experiential practice and measurable outcomes of these foundational skills.

Implications: As all disciplines move more towards improving the experience of the “consumer”, an increased concern with end user satisfaction is essential. The transferability of SP methodology is applicable across many fields, including Law, Business and Social Work among other programs. Continued collaboration has significant potential for training professionals in all disciplines.


Communication training, interpersonal skill, patient, patient experience, person-centered healthcare, role play simulated/standardized patient, small group learning

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