Recruiting simulated patients

Case Study: How to recruit simulated patients

Case study contributed by La Trobe University, Rural Health School

As our simulated learning sessions developed, it became apparent that simulated patients could enhance the student's learning experience by increasing fidelity and realism.  Some disciplines were using their own recruits or volunteers, but there was no central database or training provided for Simulated Patients (SPs).

The team at La Trobe Rural Health School decided to pilot a simulated patient program to improve and standardise the use of SPs within the School.

Our recruitment strategy 

We employed the following methods to attract a wide range of potential simulated patients;

  • A traditional print advertisement was placed in our local newspaper. 
  • Social media was utilised to display the advertisement on the University home page. 
  • The La Trobe University Careers page was used to advertise the positions.
  • Online job pages were used to advertise for simulated patients.
  • Hard copies of the advertisement were also placed around the university noticeboards and at numerous community groups such as Rotary and sporting groups. 
  • A group email was sent out to health science academics and the La Trobe social email distribution.  They were asked to pass on to their social networks if applicable.


Figure 1: The advertisement that was produced by our marketing department

Prospective Sim Patients were told that no acting or medical experience would be required.  A desire to be a participant in health care education, the ability to learn case studies and dependability were essential characteristics for the position. 

We also looked for people who had flexible schedules, and aim to achieve a good mix of ages, races, ethnic groups, religions, genders, etc. so that they might be able to play a range of characters.

Information Session

An hour long information session was set up  in our simulation labs.  Attendees were given a tour of the facilities and the Simulation Educator gave an outline on what it’s like to be a simulated patient and what our expectations would be.   A brief simulation was demonstrated for the attendees and a YouTube video demonstrating a high stakes assessment was shown.

At the end of the session those who were interested in applying for a casual Simulated Patient position were invited to do so.   All applicants were invited to interview for the position.


Three case studies were emailed to the applicant in advance of the interview with instructions to choose the case study that appealed to them the most and to learn the role. Interview times were staggered, 15-20 minutes apart and took place in a classroom or small simulation suite. 

Dear <Name>,

Thanks for your interest in taking part in our simulated patient program.

What’s next?

In the attached document, there are 3 case histories; please read over them and chose the one role that you feel the most comfortable portraying (learning)

Below is a list of expectations for our simulated patients. Simulated patients should:

  • Be comfortable with their health and dealing with health professionals
  • Be an excellent listener
  • Be reliable and punctual
  • Be nonjudgmental about students and faculty gender, race, religion, national origin, physical characteristics, etc.
  • Conduct themselves professionally, showing respect for all students, faculty members and staff
  • Consistently portray the role or scenario, as trained by staff
  • Remember what the student who examined you did and then record it, if asked
  • Have strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Keep all information regarding the case, students and other patients confidential
  • Want to contribute to the training process of excellent health care professionals

Here are the details of your interview.

Date:                           Wednesday 2nd of April

Time:                           3pm

Where:                       Clinical Teaching Building RECEPTION

                                    <address here>

Park:                           Car Park access is from Willow Street, Security have a list of people attending the interviews (see map attached)

Meet:                          <contact name>

Before your interview: please review one of the 3 case studies so we can ask you questions in character.

Any questions, or changes to interview times, please do not hesitate to contact me.





Figure 2: Sample email with the details for the interview including 3 case studies

The interview started with introductions, and then we launched into taking the case history from the prospective SP to see what they had remembered and how they went in character.  It was important that they took the task seriously and had made the effort to learn and retain the information. 

Some prospective SP’s were discounted because they hadn’t bothered to learn the role, broke character too easily or embellished medical information.  During all interviews, a question was asked that wasn’t in the case materials provided, to test the applicant’s ability to improvise. Some examples of additional questions might be;

  • What are your grandchildren’s names?
  • Have you been to any good restaurants lately?
  • What football team do you follow?

Interview Questions

After the role play, we asked a few more questions to see if they would be a good fit for the program.

  • How they learnt the role for the interview
  • Why they chose that particular role.
  • Discuss the requirement for confidentiality to protect the students who are learning
  • Discuss the fact that they might be video recorded in particular sessions
  • If they have any previous acting experience or acting training?
  • What is their availability? (Days/ Nights/ Weekends if applicable)
  • Any travel limitations?
  • Are they comfortable with the student touching your body to practise an assessment? (Neck, leg, back, stomach, etc.)
  • If a simulation requires you to disrobe and/ or wear a hospital gown, what would their comfort level be with this? Please describe any limitations.
  • Ask if there are any roles/scenarios that they might be uncomfortable participating in.  For instance, if they had a close relative or friend who died from a stroke, they might want to steer clear of stroke scenarios as it may be too upsetting for them.
  • Would they feel that they could give honest feedback to a participant/student about their performance after a simulation session?
  • Ask them to describe why they think they would make a good SP.
  • Would they be able to attend further training sessions?
  • Discussion of wage/timesheets/contracts

Notification of successful applicants

Successful SPs were notified via phone or email that they had been selected for the program and were then provided with small group training and induction. Case-specific follow up training and other training opportunities have been provided to all SPs in our program.


Thank you for your interest in the La Trobe Rural Health School Simulated Patient Program.

We had a fantastic response and interviewed a large number of potential participants. 

It was decided that we would keep our bank of simulated patients at a manageable level so that we could provide them with enough support, training and ultimately hours of simulation.

We would love you to partake in some further training. Training will take place at the clinical teaching building and will take approx. 1 hour (group training sessions)

I will be in contact to discuss a suitable time.

We have spoken about further resources for simulated patients in most of the interviews.  Here are some web pages you might like to visit for further information;

<insert links here>

Once again, please do not hesitate to contact me if you should have any questions.

Thanks again.


<your name>

Figure 3: Sample email for successful SP’s