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RANDOM SAMPLING //

Feigning Illness

Practice makes perfect for doctors-to-be.

Summer 2007
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Before turning medical students loose on real patients, most—if not all—schools have them practice on imposters. Standardized patients, or SPs, are trained to simulate medical conditions and histories, undergo examinations and provide feedback about students’ bedside manners. The actors below reveal that not only do SPs take great care to create the best learning experience for students but also that such care can yield unexpected returns.

Eve Muller

I once portrayed a pregnant patient who didn’t speak English. The medical student explained to my English-speaking “husband,” another SP, that there was no fetal heartbeat. While my “husband” pretended to break down, I traveled a spectrum of true emotions in 15 minutes: confusion, fear, frustration, shock, denial, grief. The more humanity you bring to a case, the more real it becomes. And this certainly felt real. I was emotionally spent.
— Eve Muller, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles

In one final exam, the first-year students told me, “You’ve got a really funny pulse.” My heart was skipping beats, so I drove to the emergency room. The cardiologist said I had an arrhythmia and that “those students may have just saved your life.”
— Sam Coleman, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno


I like the students to feel as comfortable as possible while examining me, so I wear men’s boxer shorts with designs that correspond to the appropriate major holidays—Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day. They really appreciate this type of icebreaker.
— Jenny Lind Olin, University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa

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