How Pretending to be Sick Could Help You Make Money
“Where’s Johnnnnny?” the patient howled, her high-pitched voice screeching down the hallway. The terrified medical school student responded shakily, “I don’t know who Johnny is. He’s not here. I’m Sarah, though. I’m a medical school student, and I’m here to take your history.”
“Nooooooooo,” the patient screamed, throwing herself onto the floor and banging her fists. “All I want is Johnnnyyyyy. Go away!”
At that point, the student didn’t know whether to be bewildered, scared, or slightly impressed.
The patient was, after all, just an actor, one who was hired time and time again to help test the medical students during their clinical exams. It was her job to portray a very pained, schizophrenic woman, and she was very, very good at it.
Working as a Standardized Patient
This woman was legendary at the medical school where I used to work, but she wasn’t the only “patient” that my colleagues remembered well. There was also a British woman who was extremely defensive. Every single time a student asked a basic medical history question like, “How many sexual partners have you had?” she responded with a spitfire attitude: “Are you trying to call me a SLUT?” She was another one of my favorites, and only the strongest students could avoid being flustered when working with her.
Of course, while these two actors stood out for their memorable performances, countless others didn’t terrorize the students nearly as much!
Interesting in putting your acting skills to work -- and getting paid -- as a standardized patient actor? Medical schools around the U.S. and the world need these people to help train their students. Here’s what you should know about landing this always-interesting gig.
What are the Job Requirements?
To land this job, you need to have acting skills. You’ll discuss many sensitive topics during your work, like physical abuse, erectile dysfunction, and AIDS, and you have to be empathetic and respectful of these issues while maintaining your composure and helping guide the students to a diagnosis without giving too much away. The best patients are are believable without going overboard.
Medical students are just learning. They will occasionally ask the wrong questions, accidentally perform the wrong test, and make other mistakes. Have compassion for them and remember that in a few years, they could be taking care of you!
Be Over 18 and Clean
Medical schools will likely require a drug test along with some other medical tests to ensure it will be safe for students to interact with you and touch you. Be sure you are comfortable with this if you want to be a standardized patient.
You will likely work during normal business hours, so a 9-to-5 job is probably not compatible with this kind of gig. It’s a great part-time job to complement another flexible gig, though.
Tips for Getting a Standardized Patient Job
Even though this will likely be a part-time job, be sure to treat it as though it’s a professional career. Bring your resume and best references, and be sure to practice for your interview ahead of time.
No one expects you to have the knowledge of a medical school student when you are a standardized patient. However, you will have to learn how to pronounce some medical terminology and become familiar with a few basic symptoms and diseases over time. Usually, standardized patients portray well-known medical issues, not rare ones, so don’t feel like you have to study your high-school biology textbook or marathon old episodes of House.
If you have a friend in medical school or you meet someone at a party who works at a medical school, inquire about standardized patient jobs. Typically, every medical school will have them.
How Much do Standardized Patients Make?
Ultimately, being a standardized patient is a really rewarding job for an actor. You get paid between $15 and $20 per hour, and you can feel good about your work, knowing you’re helping young medical students hone their skills and get ready to take care of real patients in the hospital.
If you’re interested in applying for this type of work, start by searching Indeed.com and typing in “standardized patient” along with your state. I don’t recommend typing in your zip code or city because that narrows the pool a bit too much, and it’s actually worth it to travel for this job if you can work the entire day.
Make sure the job title is actually “standardized patient.” Some jobs, like patient advocates and patient representatives, have similar names but are very different work.
If the Indeed.com search doesn’t yield any results in your area, try doing a Google search of the medical school nearest you + “standardized patient.” To get you started, here are links to Johns Hopkins’ standardized patient program, Tulane’s standardized patient program, and the Medical College of Wisconsin’s standardized patient program.
It might take some legwork to find out whether the universities nearest you are hiring new actors, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Plus, it could even save your life -- one UVA medical school student actually diagnosed his patient with the disease he was pretending to have!
Your Turn: Would you work as a standardized patient?
Catherine Alford is a full time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of newborn twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.