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Hired by various medical schools and some colleges, simulated patients are laymen hired by the administration to test would-be doctors. They are trained to exhibit a variety of symptoms, ranging from bronchitis to schizofrenia. For lab practicals as well as semester exams, they emulate various conditions, giving students relatively hands-on experience as doctors. They are graded on diagnosis, bed-side manner, and analytical technique. For example, a student could lose points if he misses a key detail, such as a bruise, even if it is a mere red herring. Some of the situations can get uncomfortable for patient and student alike--imagine trying to pretend that you had gonnorhea or genital warts.

There are various less intimate on-line simulated patient resources that provide pictures and medical options. They are offered by various universities, including the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and the College of DuPage, as well as by actual simulated patient websites like MedCases.com.

I work as a simulated patient at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. Wages are $12 an hour, with about an 8 hour day. Its infrequent work--generally no more than two or three days a month, if that. However, for a teenage consumer with a passion for computer hardware, DSL, and fast food, it's nice little to have a little supplement to my income.

These are also (and more descriptively) known as Standardized Patients ("SPs"), because the main goal is to test the medical students' knowledge under standard conditions to enable examiners to compare scores, and to define acceptable performace for all students.

Sometimes, the students try to outwit the tests. In one recent test, the female SP presented with simulated bruises and exhibited many signs of physical abuse. Most students competently addressed the physical wounds, but did not address the fact of the abuse. They received low marks, and word spread about this test.

Later, the test was given to a different set of students. These students, forwarned by their peers, competently addressed the abuse...but forgot to address the injuries!

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