OSPE provides SPs for the education and assessment of learners for various programs and departments at UAB and to external clients in the medical community. All participants, regardless of their educational or training level are referred to as “learners.”
Undergraduate Medical Education Program:
In the School of Medicine, learners attend for four years (designated as M1, M2, M3, and M4). OSPE works closely with M1 and M2 learners, and at times with groups of M3 and M4 learners.
Graduate Medical Education Program:
Following medical school, the education of a physician continues throughout three plus years of postgraduate training (interns, residents, and fellows). OSPE provides services for learners in all levels of postgraduate training.
UAB School of Nursing Programs:
OSPE provides services for a number of graduate nursing programs.
Academic Health Professions:
OSPE also provides learning experiences for programs in the UAB School of Health Professions. We work with learners from the Physician Assistant, Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Master’s of Science in Health Administration, Nutrition, and Genetic Counseling programs.
UAB School of Optometry
OSPE provides services for the 4 year Doctor of Optometry degree (O.D.).
UAB School of Dentistry
OSPE provides services for the 4 year DMD program.
The Office of Interprofessional Simulation (OIPS):
OIPS is a joint venture between UAB health schools and the UAB Health System. The primary role of the Office is to support and track interprofessional and other UAB health system simulation experiences.
External Clients
External clients are usually educational groups providing training or utilizing SPs in assessment of learners. Sometimes they may choose to come to OPSE facilities and utilize both space and SPs. Other times they may request that SPs come their location.

Children’s Pediatric Simulation Center and the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University are regular external clients of OSPE.
Standardized Patients (SPs) are people who are trained to portray the history, physical exam, and emotional affect of a real patient. SPs interact with learners in a mock clinical experience, either in a simulation lab setting or within a real patient care area, while playing roles that are designed to represent the cases seen most often by healthcare practitioners. SPs are valuable in helping learners in the health professions translate classroom knowledge into clinical expertise in a controlled learning environment. SPs provide an environment in which learners practice clinical skills, learn from mistakes, and ultimately build competence and confidence.

For the purpose of most events, SPs take on a “role.” SPs memorize a patient’s background and display certain symptoms, behaviors, and emotions. Throughout the encounter, SPs stay in character and answer the learners’ questions from the perspective of the “patient.” SPs may also undergo physical exams conducted by learners. When the learner leaves the room, SPs record the learner’s performance using a checklists determined by faculty. The checklists may include items related to history taking, physical examination techniques, and/or interpersonal skills. For many encounters, learners will return to the room to receive feedback from SPs regarding the learner’s interpersonal and communication skills.

For each case, SPs receive specific training on how best to perform the role, how to respond to important parts of the physical exam, how to record learner performance using the checklist, and how to give constructive feedback about what it felt like to be the patient.

SPs provide standardized performances, portraying the patient exactly the same with each learner and thus providing everyone with the same educational experience. Performance changes only in response to learner variation.

All standardized patient encounters are noninvasive, in other words, no needles, tubes, or scalpels are involved.
Encounters may be exclusively history taking or physical exam based, but often they are a combination of both. For the latter, SPs will be interviewed by the learner and then physically examined with respect to the initial complaint. SPs often work one-on-one with learners, but an SP may also be asked to work with a group.

Physical Exam Practice (PEPs): Some SPs will be asked to participate in PEPs. During a PEP, specially trained SPs will help guide learners through the steps of a physical exam. Faculty, clinical skills scholars, and/or CSTAs will be present to assure proper instruction. In order to participate, SPs must attend mandatory trainings for each physical exam.

Clinical Skills Exams (CSEs): CSE’s are one-on-one encounters between SPs and learners that imitate real clinical interactions and provide opportunities for learners to interact with a variety of patients. The learners practice their interviewing skills, patient-physician communication, and physical exam skills. After the learner leaves the room, SPs record the learner’s performance using a checklist. For some events, the learners may return to the room to receive feedback on interpersonal and communication skills.


Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs): OSCEs are similar to CSEs, but rather than tending to the comprehensive care of each patient, learners rotate through a series of rooms with each encounter designed to evaluate a distinct clinical skill. The skills assessed may include taking a focused history, conducting a focused physical examination, ordering tests, formulating differential diagnosis, planning treatment, and/or effectively communicating with patients.

After the learner leaves the room, SPs record the learner’s performance using a checklist focused on the specific skill in question. As with CSEs, the learners may return to the room to receive feedback on interpersonal and communication skills.

Because an OSCE is a “high stakes” exam for the learners, SPs have special responsibilities when participating in these events. The most important task is to remain standardized throughout the entire event. Consistency for each learner ensures fairness and accuracy in assessment. Breaks are provided, but if an SP starts to become fatigued – mentally or physically – it is very important that they alert the staff so that an alternate SP can be substituted.

Confidentiality is always important, but this is especially true for OSCEs. SPs must keep exam materials and the nature of their roles strictly confidential.
If an SP is working with learners during a non-OSCE event (for instance a PEP) and a learner asks a question about an OSCE, such as, “Is this how I should do it for the OSCE?” The SP should not answer the question and should instead direct the learner to a faculty member or OSPE staff member.

OSCEs require additional training. In addition to a regular scheduled case training, a dry run training is also required (see Dry Run Training).

Hybrid Simulation Scenario: When more than one type of simulator is used in simulation, it is called hybrid simulation. The most common form of hybrid simulation is to combine the use of a manikin with one or more SPs in order to increase the realism of simulated scenarios and add additional challenges for learners. The SP may portray a family member or anyone else associated with the patient manikin. Another form of hybrid simulation occurs when learners are learning how to perform clinical procedures on a task trainer. The SP is the patient, but the learner practices the skill on the task trainer. This allows them to not only work on the clinical skill component but on their communication with the patient as well.
Mission Statement: The mission of OSPE is to create formative and interactive educational experiences that will provide students and health care professionals a supportive environment in which to hone their interpersonal and empathetic skills, as well as their diagnostic and problem solving abilities.

Vision Statement: The vision of OSPE will allow UAB to expand existing educational programs, launch new instructional techniques, and employ optimal outcome assessments with the ultimate goal of training competent, compassionate professionals while fostering educational research.

Core Values:
  • Education – As an office dedicated to excellence in education, OSPE will foster critical thinking skills for the life-long learning of students, faculty and staff.
  • Innovation – To uphold the best in quality standards, OSPE will commit to excellence by continual program assessment, improvement, and innovative approaches.
  • Service – OSPE will strive to address the health care needs and education of people in the communities served.
  • Commitment – OSPE is dedicated to serving the needs of health professional schools and their students and therefore has accountability to the student, program, institution and profession
  • Professionalism – OSPE is committed to being an educational entity that models ethical behavior and team based collaboration with compassion, caring and respect.