MD Program

Contact the PBA Program

1150 MERF
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2600
Phone:(319) 384-3027
Fax: (319) 335-8643

  •  Role of Standardized Patients  

     This is a photograph of a student performing a physical exam maneuverDo you feel you have skills to both portray a case AND to give well-intended, behavior-specific, supportive feedback?  The Standardized Patients (SPs) play an integral role in the PBA Program.  Through careful training, they portray a patient with the accompanying history, physical findings, personality, emotions, and behavior appropriate for the specific case.  SPs may learn many roles over time, or they may play one role repeatedly. All SPs portraying a patient role must do so consistently and accurately, to ensure that the PBA is a fair assessment for all students. SPs play a second important role in the PBA program. After the presentation of a patient case, the SP completes an assessment checklist that serves to record each student's performance.

    SPs are recruited from within the University and from the community. Many have extensive acting experience either through community theater, the Department of Theater Arts here at the University, or other theater training programs. Of course, not all of our SPs have acting experience; we also employ several talented people who are committed to improving the quality of medical education. SPs complete a rigorous training program so they perform the roles consistently and realistically.  SPs are trained to observe student behavior and complete rating forms measuring clinical reasoning and communication skills.  They are also trained to provide effective behavior-based patient-centered feedback aimed to enhance students' skills in patient care.  SPs use web-based training, role-playing, cooperative learning and faculty involvement to portray medically accurate, emotionally appropriate, and educationally effective cases that best meet curricular goals of each clerkship.   Find out what some actors have said about being an SP in the PBA Program.

    You can help shape the future of medicine!

    Medical Student examining patient eyesBy using SPs, third- and fourth-year medical students can be observed and evaluated while interacting with patients in an authentic, high-fidelity simulated medical scenario.  SPs are trained to portray an actual patient case in a realistic manner, giving students experience with clinical encounters similar to those they may encounter on the wards of a hospital, but in a setting that allows greater opportunities to practice their skills are receive clinical feedback.

     We usually focus on our search for SPs in the fall and in the spring, when the academic semesters are starting. We are looking for a good representation of the patient pool. Our youngest SP is 19 years old, and the oldest is 85 years old. We are looking for men and women of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Currently, we have approximately 90 members in our group of SPs, and hope to maintain 70 – 90 people at all times.

    You may be called on to learn several roles, or you may perform the same role for a particular clerkship’s PBA each time. You may participate frequently, or you may work once every 6 – 8 weeks. You may not work in each exam for which you are available. Depending on the cases that are being used for a given year, there is a great variety in this aspect of this program.

    No one person is expected to commit to every exam; we work with your schedule to arrange training and rehearsals, and we will communicate with you about your interest and availability for each exam.

    The Hiring Process

    In general, the hiring process includes these steps:

    1. Completing an application (see "Apply to be an SP", below).
    2. Interviewing with a member of the PBA program staff.
    3. Attending an orientation session.
    4. Observing an exam and beginning the training process.

    Depending on our current needs, these steps may be modified on an individual basis.

    Meet Ellen Franklin

    Ellen is the coordinator of the PBA program. Ellen trains the standardized patients to simulate their conditions and manages the exams themselves. Please click here to read her biographical sketch.

     Ellen Franklin, MA, MBA, MME

    Take a Tour of our Facilities

    Feel free to explore our facilities to find out more about where and how we work.

    Directions to our Facility

    Our building, the Medical Education and Biomedical Research Facility (MERF), is located at 500 Newton Rd., across from the Newton Road Parking Ramp. Driving directions are available .


    The exam schedule is determined by the clerkship directors and the members of the PBA staff at least one year in advance. Currently, we run PBAs for the Ambulatory Practice Module (APM), Neurology, Psychiatry, Surgery, Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/Gyn) clerkships and for the Physician Assistant Program.

    Expectations for SPs during an Exam

    SPs are expected to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the exam start time in order to change into hospital attire, receive instructions, obtain their schedule for the exam, and take their places. Once an SP has completed his or her encounters with the medical student, straightened the exam room, placed linens in their spot, and turned in all materials, the SP is free to go.

    Apply to Be an SP

    To download an application form, please click on the application form link. After completing your application, please mail it to:

    University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine
    OSAC, PBA Program
    1150 MERF
    Iowa City, IA 52242


    If you need more information, please review our list of frequently asked questions. If you still have unanswered questions, please contact Ellen Franklin at 319-335-6787 or