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The Use of Standardized Patients vs. Manikins in Medical Training

The Use of Standardized Patients vs. Manikins in Medical Training

Medical students require hands-on training to prepare them for real-life situations where they must treat human patients. Part of this hands-on medical training requires students to practice drawing blood, giving injections, performing CPR, breast examinations, inserting IVs, defibrillation, and administering medication.

Medical schools provide standardized patients and manikins as test subjects for medical students. Low-fidelity and high-fidelity manikins are the first test subjects because they are not human. They are part of simulation training where the medical students perform various procedures on the manikins as if they were human patients. Since there is no risk of injuring or killing the manikins, it is easier for inexperienced medical students to practice on them first.

Standardized patients are human patients trained to simulate an actual patient experience. They are typically introduced after medical students advance in their studies by transitioning out of classrooms and into clinical settings. If students have proven they can perform well with manikins, they will move on to humans.

Practicing with human patients is a much bigger step because real people are involved. Fortunately, standardized patients are protected from any significant risk of injury or illness because medical schools provide simulated medications to students. Simulated medications are made to look like authentic medications, but they do not contain any actual medicine. Only the packaging is made to look real.

Is it better to use standardized patients or manikins for medical training? There is no good or bad choice because both come in handy at different times during medical training. Knowing the right time to use them requires understanding each simulation method’s benefits and limitations.

Let us examine the benefits and limitations of each one.

Standardized Patients


1) Practice Communication Skills with Human Patients

Medical students benefit more when engaging with human patients in a clinical setting. They obtain experience interacting with patients and practicing their communication skills. Standardized patients are trained to ask common questions, physically respond to treatments, and emotionally react to certain news or information regarding their health. These interactions prepare medical students for how human patients behave when receiving treatments and information about their health.

Students will become more comfortable the more they interact with standardized patients. It will teach them to deliver bad news to patients and tolerate their emotional responses from hearing the bad news. After all, medical professionals are expected to maintain composure without getting emotional like the patients. Students will learn to do this as they continue delivering bad news and witness tragic events with patients.

2) Real-Time Feedback

Standardized patients serve as both simulation patients and instructors. In addition to responding to medical procedures like human patients, standardized patients can provide realistic feedback on their feelings and experiences. This feedback will help teach you what you did right or wrong when performing each procedure by learning how it affected the patient physically and emotionally.

High-fidelity manikins cannot provide such feedback at an emotional level. Even if they are programmed to respond a certain way, it is not the same as a human patient conveying more in-depth feedback about their experience. Students can obtain a lot more insight and knowledge from the responses and feedback of standardized patients than they can from manikins.


1) Requires More Planning and Expense

Standardized patients don’t live at medical schools. When instructors want to use standardized patients to train their students, they need to schedule a time for them to visit the school. Standardized patients also need the proper training and experience to convey the required responses when working with students accurately.

There is not a vast supply of standardized patients available for medical students. It requires a lot of planning and expense to arrange for standardized patients to come to a medical school. It is one of the reasons why schools prefer using manikins over human patients. Manikins are less costly and more easily accessible.



1) No Risk Involved

There is no risk involved when medical students work with manikins. Students can practice administering high-risk medications and advanced medical procedures without worrying about causing harm to anybody. Since manikins are not human, no one will get hurt if students make mistakes when performing procedures.

Medical students are prone to making mistakes when practicing hands-on medical procedures. Manikins give students the freedom to make mistakes without any repercussions. That way, they can learn from those mistakes and continue practicing until they no longer make them.

2) Advanced Technology for Accurate Simulation

The latest high-fidelity manikins contain advanced simulation technology and software that allows them to react realistically to various procedures performed on them. Even though the manikins are not human, the instructors can program them to respond to multiple medical scenarios the way an actual patient would.

The built-in software can collect data associated with each student’s performance and then provide feedback on how they can improve their performance. These sophisticated manikins will not get emotional like human patients, but they can help teach students what they are doing wrong and how they can improve going forward.


1) No Social Communication or Interaction

Manikins cannot talk or interact with medical students like standardized patients. Even the most sophisticated high-fidelity manikins do not have social communication technology built into them. They can never replace the interpersonal experience of talking to a human patient and witnessing their emotional side.

Medical students eventually need to train with standardized patients to obtain essential communication skills for interacting with human patients in clinical settings. These interactions will teach students to develop empathy for patients and talk to them compassionately and sensitively. Manikins will never provide them with these skills.

2) Not All Manikins are the Same

Manikins are not all built the same. Each manikin is built to serve a particular purpose or lesson plan in medical training. For instance, the CPR manikin simulator is only helpful for practicing CPR procedures. You cannot use it to practice inserting IVs and defibrillation. Procedures like these require different manikins made for practicing those specific medical tasks.

Therefore, medical schools will have to stock their classrooms with multiple types of manikins to accommodate each medical procedure they want to teach to students. Purchasing all these manikins will increase their overhead expenses.


Standardized patients and manikins are both essential simulation elements for medical training purposes. Medical schools should use manikins for early classroom training and then gradually move students on to practicing with standardized patients in clinical settings.

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