Standardized Patients


iCELS is the home of the internationally recognized UMass Medical School Standardized Patient Program. Our program's extensive workforce — more than 100 acting patients — represents the demographics of today's patient population, with Standardized (or "simulated") Patients ranging in age from adolescents to active senior citizens.

Standardized Patients are lay people trained to simulate a broad range of medical conditions in realistic and consistent patient encounters. They are trained to effectively act as teachers and evaluators of medical students, physician assistant candidates, nursing students, residents and practicing clinicians.  

In these simulated patient encounters, learners are provided the opportunity to practice skills in a positive and non-threatening setting. The length and complexity of an encounter varies depending on the level of the learner and the learning objectives of the session. The purpose and objectives of an exercise can range from pure formative education to implementation of summative evaluation instruments for the assessment of communication and clinical competence.   Standardized patients frequently team with clinical faculty in high and low stakes examinations, small group teaching sessions, and one-on-one specialized clinical electives to assist learners with identified weaknesses in clinical skills.

Our Standardized Patients are carefully trained to:

  • Portray and replicate manifestations of several medical conditions.
  • Role play communication challenges.
  • Evaluate and document learner performance by providing written and verbal feedback. 
  • Deliver feedback in accordance with training in the Master Interview Rating Scale, a validated instrument that examines twenty key communication skills.
  • Provide full physical examinations and many are trained for the female breast, pelvic and male genitourinary exams.

Our Standardized Patients are available for trainings within our Worcester iCELS facility, and can travel to other organizations throughout New England.  Our patients can provide patient role play, evaluation and educational training film services to learners at hospitals, academic centers and inter-professional programs.

Continuous Quality Improvement

In order to maintain our high standard of educational excellence, our patients undergo consistent case and scenario training, receive checklist assessment training, and receive ongoing developmental feedback.  Video recording of simulations in our iCELS facility allows standardized patients to review their work and self-assess, and allows for SP academic leadership to ensure standardization and quality of patient performances. 

History of our Program

The iCELS Standardized Patient Program was established at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1982.  The utilization of the UMASS Standardized Patient as an evaluative and instructional tool has evolved as an integral and mandatory component in all four years of the medical school curriculum – not only at UMass Medical School but at medical schools across Massachusetts.

For over 30 years, UMASS SPs have been respected and in demand as skilled teachers and evaluators of the complete physical exam as well as the female breast, pelvic and male genitourinary exams. Multi-station OSCE’s (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) utilizing Standardized Patients as subjects have become the assessment instrument of choice because of its proven reliability. The Program has also moved beyond the realm of UMASS and currently provides its academic services to most New England regional medical schools, area hospitals, HMO’s and academic nursing and physician assistant programs, and a veterinary schoolThe program continues to make inroads as an active participant in community education workshops, continuing Medical Education (CME) and Graduate Medical Education (GME) courses.

For 4 years, we were one of the select few SP programs nationwide designated to pilot test cases for the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). This standardized patient performance based assessment measuring clinical competency is now a mandated component of the USMLE II licensure exam.  The SP Program Director continues to work closely with NBME as a Task Force Committee Member working with clinicians to develop cases for this exam, and assists NBME with ongoing quality control of SPs throughout the nation trained to participate in this high-stakes assessment.

The UMASS Program with its 100+ SP workforce has brought national and international recognition to the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and serves as a gold standard and model for standardized patient programs throughout the world.