Posted by: nancykenny | June 13, 2009

Standardized Testing

Through my twitter updates in the past few weeks, I had made mention of working as a Standardized Patient. This led to a few people (ok, one – Hi Wayne!) asking for a post on the topic, so here it is.

Wikipedia gives a pretty good definition of Standardized (or Simulated) Patients which can be summed up as: an individual who is trained to act as a real patient in order to simulate a set of symptoms or problems. Simulated patients have been successfully used in medical education, evaluation, and research.

I’ve been doing work over the past couple of months through the University of Ottawa Medical School and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada. Though I’ve been sworn to secrecy regarding the “roles” I was playing (literally – we had to sign confidentiality agreements), I can tell you a bit about what it entails.

At the U of O, I’ve done in-class standardized patients, practice exams, and the actual exams for the Med Students. I’ve also been sent out to some psychology department so the students could sit in on a “session” and I’ve been used in a training session where doctors have to practice their empathy skills in difficult or delicate situations. At the Royal College, I’ve participated in the specialization exams. This is where current doctors have to pass an exam so that they may specialize in a particular discipline in the field of medicine.

It’s a pretty interesting form of acting work when you think about it. You’re given a character, some given circumstances/symptoms and sometimes you even get lines. You get training sessions (and like any rehearsal process, you have to attend every one you are called for) and, in certain situations, you get to improvise a lot. Sometimes it’s just a matter of thinking quickly on your feet (say a candidate asks you your husband’s name or your current profession – which was not outlined in your information packet), but other times it may be a full blown improv (like the psych and empathy ones were for me – “You are Person X and you did this – Go!”).

I also run into a lot of fellow actor friends when I do the SP work. It’s understandable. When times are slow, it gives you a chance to somewhat stay sharp and still get paid for it. And the pay is pretty darn good, though it takes a quite a while before the cheque comes in. Oh and sometimes they have food. I like food.

The work is pretty sporadic – every Spring and Fall, but if you are interested in doing this in the Ottawa area, let me know. I have the names of people you can get in touch with. They will pretty much take anyone who is responsible and willing to do the work. I’ve also heard that this type of work takes place for Law and Police exams, though I have yet to find a contact for those. If anyone knows how I could get into this, please leave a comment and I will be in touch.



  1. Thanks for writing this post Nancy I enjoyed reading about your experience with this form of theatre. I’m fascinated by it and I think it shows how versatile theatre can be.

    The practice you are providing for these medical professionals is nothing less than crucial. All of us, eventually will come to rely on these folks and the more practice they get, the better it will be for all of us.
    Helping people help others is a natural fit for theatre and must be very rewarding. Some of the performances you give will probably have a greater impact on someone else than any performance on the stage. When dealing with loved ones or ourselves in pain improved “empathy skills” are nothing less than life altering. The fact you get paid well for it is fantastic.

  2. […] stack of auditions in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto; an extra union credit on the French side; some standardized patient work; the creation of a new production company; and, of course, this little show called No Exit […]

  3. […] A few months ago, I mentioned that I do work as a Standardized Patient. I’ve signed confidentiality agreements and so I can’t talk about the specifics of […]

  4. Hi Nancy, I also enjoyed your post on Simulated Patients. I would be interested in finding out more about it, as well. You mentionned that you have contact information. Can you share this with me?

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