Why Standardized Patients are a Valuable Part of Clinical Skills Preparation

Have you ever heard of a Standardized Patient, or SP? If not, they are going to be a very important part of the USMLE® Step 2 CS examination that you may be preparing for. Standardized Patients are specially trained actors that consistently portray a fictional patient in a testing-type location to evaluate medical students and other health professionals. They are trained to answer medical history questions, simulate physical exam findings, and engage the examinee in conversation just like a real patient.

So, why are Standardized Patients used in medical education?

Because the best way to simulate a human being is to use a human being. Standardized Patients work well for assessing most skills required in the physician-patient relationship, including history-taking, physical exam, and communication. When assessment calls for the administration of an actual treatment you may find that simulators are used, like for cardiac conditions or venipuncture.

Where do I find Standardized Patients?

Approximately 74% of medical schools in the United States require students to complete a clinical skills assessment as part of graduation requirements (United States Medical Licensing Examination, 2016) and these assessments most likely involve Standardized Patients. Becker’s USMLE® Step 2 CS Assessment uses standardized patients to simulate the environment of the USMLE® Step 2 CS exam and provide examinees with feedback about their history-taking skills, physical exam skills, communication skills, and spoken English proficiency.

How important are Standardized Patient and clinical skills assessments?

Your ultimate goal is to practice medicine and the USMLE® Step 2 CS is one step in that journey. These low-risk assessment and training opportunities help prepare you for the USMLE® but also to develop your skills as a future physician. Some of the reasons the USMLE® Step 2 CS exists is because of the observed variety in physical examination skills (Cuddy & Peitzman, 2015) and rise in complaints received from patients surrounding their physician’s communication skills (Davignon, Young, & Johnson, 2014).

Medical students often say that the experiences they have with Standardized Patients are some of the most rewarding they have during their exam preparation. Completing a clinical skills assessment with SPs allows you to practice your clinical skills in a low-risk environment and receive prompt feedback about how your performance compares to standards set by your medical school or the provider hosting your assessment.

Who makes sure that Standardized Patients are actually “standardized”?

Just like organizations exist to accredit colleges and universities, there are accrediting agencies for professional education. There are also professional organizations that set best practices for the standardized patient field and help provide a platform for standardized patient educators to share information, research, and development opportunities. One such organization is the Association of Standardized Patient Educators, or ASPE. ASPE provides guidance on case simulation design, examinee rating, Standardized Patient behavior, and feedback/debriefing (Lewis et al., 2017).

As part of Becker’s ongoing commitment to its programs, the Standardized Patients and Proctors receive regular observations, feedback, and training to keep them performing their best as they portray their patient’s chief complaints. Becker’s USMLE® Step 2 CS Assessment is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET), a United States Department of Education-recognized national accrediting agency.

How can I interact with Becker’s Standardized Patients?

Becker’s Standardized Patients are part of Becker’s USMLE® Step 2 CS Assessment which is offered in Chicago, Illinois each month of the year.

Becker’s Standardized Patients are also a part of GuideMD for USMLE® Step 2 CS. GuideMD provides a library of clinical skills workshops led by Dr. Charles Faselis, and also includes full-length video encounters between Standardized Patients and medical students/residents for students wishing to complete clinical skills self-study activities.

Wherever your clinical skills preparation takes you, Becker provides opportunities to include Standardized Patient experiences in your exam review.


Cuddy, M. M., & Peitzman, S. J. (2015). Performance in physical examination on the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills examination. Academic Medicine, 90(2), 209-213.

Davignon, P., Young, A., & Johnson, D. (2014). Medical board complaints against physicians due to communication: Analysis of North Carolina Medical Board data, 2002-2012. Journal of Medical Regulation, 100(2), 28-31.

Lewis, K. L., Bohnert, C. A., Gammon, W. L., Holzer, H., Lyman, L., Smith, C., … Gilva-McConvey, G. (2017). The Association of Standardized Patient Educations (ASPE) Standards of Best Practices (SOBP). Advances in Simulation, 2(10).

United Stated Medical Licensing Examination. (2016). Step 2 CS (Clinical Skills). Retrieved from http://www.usmle.org/frequently-asked-questions/#step2cs

Taylor Gothard on Linkedin
Program Manager, Clinical Skills at Becker