Standardized Patients Help Prepare School of Medicine Students to Deliver World-Class Care to Real Patients

April 20, 2018

They come from all walks of life, with different experiences and backgrounds, but they all provide the same benefit as they help prepare the next generation of physicians, physician assistants and nurse anesthetists at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

They’re called standardized patients – people in the community who have been trained to portray actual patients accurately and consistently, allowing students to gain valuable real-life experience as they progress through their health care education journey.

Scenarios in which the standardized patients participate can range from simple office visits for routine physical exams or discussions about social issues, drug and alcohol use and smoking, to the more complex cases in which students learn to diagnose diseases based on a wide array of symptoms.

“Standardized patients are vital in helping us prepare our students for their future careers in health care,” said Mary Claire O’Brien, M.D., senior associate dean for health care education at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “Our students are not only able to practice their clinical work, but to learn the importance of building relationships with their patients, empathizing with them and doing what’s best for them physically, emotionally and financially.”

Jeff and Donna Sparks have been involved in the program since they both retired 10 years ago. Donna was a school teacher and Jeff worked for Wachovia for most of his career.

“For me, this is another way that I can continue teaching and keep myself busy during retirement,” said Donna. “The students are so appreciative of what we do and we really enjoy working with them and watching them grow, from when they first arrive, until they graduate and embark on their new careers.”

About 160 people have participated as standardized patients since Wake Forest School of Medicine started the program in the 1980s.

To learn more about the School of Medicine’s standardized patient program, please visit

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