Using standardized patients for undergraduate clinical skills training in an introductory course to psychiatry

BMC Med Educ. 2023 Mar 15;23(1):159. doi: 10.1186/s12909-023-04107-5.


Background: The goal of this study was to assess the value and acceptance of Standardized or Simulated Patients (SPs) for training clinically inexperienced undergraduate medical students in psychiatric history taking, psychopathological assessment, and communication with psychiatric patients.

Methods: As part of a newly developed introductory course to psychiatry, pairs of 3rd year medical students conducted psychiatric assessments of SPs, including history and psychopathological state, under the supervision of a clinical lecturer. Prior to the assessment, students attended introductory lectures to communication in psychiatry and psychopathology but were clinically inexperienced. After the interview, the students' summary of their findings was discussed with other students and the lecturer. Students, lecturers, and actors were invited to a survey after the course. Questions for the students included self-reports about perceived learning success and authenticity of the interviews.

Results: 41 students, 6 actors and 8 lecturers completed the survey (response rates of 48%, 50%, and 100%, respectively). The survey results indicated that, despite their lack of clinical experience, students learned how to conduct a psychiatric interview, communicate in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner, take a psychiatric history and perform a psychopathological examination. SPs were perceived as authentic. The survey results suggested that this setting allowed for an enjoyable, non-distressful and motivating learning experience within a restricted time frame of just two afternoons.

Conclusion: The results indicated that the SP approach presented is useful for teaching clinical skills in psychiatry to students with limited previous clinical experience and knowledge of psychiatry. We argue that SPs can be used to teach practical psychiatric skills already during an early phase of the curriculum. Limitations of our study include a limited sample size, a temporal gap between the course and the survey, reliance on self-reports, and lack of comparison to alternative interventions.

Keywords: Communication; Medical School; Psychiatry; Psychotherapy; Simulated patients; Standardized patients; Undergraduate.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / methods
  • Humans
  • Patient Simulation
  • Psychiatry* / education
  • Students, Medical*