The hunt for gainful employment continues unabated--in fact, this week I even applied for a couple of open positions that sounded reasonably interesting at that other...4-letter...School That Must Not Be Named. While I wait (although definitely NOT holding my breath, as I have learned from recent experience that one can only expect to be contacted if there is a firm interview offer...and I imagine prospective bosses prefer to meet with LIVE candidates...but I digress....) I sometimes stumble upon offbeat possibilities that warrant a closer look. Case in point: UNC posted an entry on its website in search of...Standardized Patients.
I had actually heard of this gig from a friend who has been doing it for several years, with schools in the D.C./Baltimore area such as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins. She described it as usually interesting, sometimes entertaining, and pretty easy money, pretending to be a sick person for med students to practice their exam and diagnostic skills. So when the university 3 miles from my house advertised that they needed guinea pigs--um, "paid, amateur actors"--for their program, I figured "Why not? It could be a hoot!" Besides, filling out an application costs nothing but time, so I went ahead with it. A few weeks later, I got an email informing me that they would be holding an informational seminar for prospective-fake-patients. If I still wished to be considered, I'd need to attend the meeting...and be ready to demonstrate the attached Test Case for an evaluator.
"Oh, sure, I can do that," I thought. So I memorized the details of the scenario and--not really knowing what to expect--steeled myself mentally for the intake process. As for that: first there was the presentation of facts about how the department works. (Yes, it's an actual, permanent fixture of the school.) As a teaching university, UNC obviously has a LOT of call for their future physicians to work on their craft...you know, before they have to actually deduce what's wrong with a person who's in front of them writhing in agony...or bleeding profusely...or suffering a seizure...or what have you...oh yeah, and then decide how to best treat them. During our session (which incidentally is completely non-invasive, and also fully-clothed, unless you explicitly agree beforehand to participate in a gown-wearing situation) we pseudo-patients would be responsible for accurately and completely relaying all of the relevant points for our specific ailment. But here's the trick: without embellishing, or adding our own "spin"...and all the while providing responses only when asked the right questions by the doctors-in-training.
Then when it's over, we're supposed to complete a feedback form, rating the student on various aspects of their exam--including such concrete factors as their thoroughness and perceived competence, as well as the less-tangible but ever-so-important "bedside manner". Each time we accept an assignment, we'll need to undergo a targeted training group related to whatever particular complaint we'll be portraying. Then on the actual day of the students' assessments, we sign up for a block of time, and may end up running through the same script 5 or 6 times with different people.
Once this was all made clear by our assigned interviewer, one other girl and I each had a chance to role play our prescribed vignette one-on-one with him. Besides being extremely relieved when the interrogation was over, I felt fairly confident afterwards that I hadn't omitted anything crucial...but I was even more pleased when Mr. Doc-for-a-Day told both of us that he rarely encountered anyone who recalled as many of the details as we had. (That's right, giving each other thumbs up and patting ourselves on the back...) Furthermore, he felt secure in recommending us for hire, and we should be hearing from the Department Head in January about getting scheduled for some upcoming cases.
So...whoo hoo! I'm gonna be a Standardized Patient, doing my part to help improve the world's future healthcare providers....for fun and profit. Bring on the (simulated) unexplained abdominal discomfort, the (totally fictional) breathing difficulties, the deep gashes (on attachable prosthetic pieces of skin) requiring sutures. Here's a long-awaited opportunity to nurture my extraordinarily under-utilized dramatic side...all for the advancement of science...and some pocket change...of course!