Little is known about the nature of standardized patient (SP) identity and its formation. Understanding identity and formation can have important implications for recruiting, working with, and retaining SPs. Social relational theory explains how identity is formed in a social context in relationship with others. In keeping with social relational theory, this study explored SP identity formation through the SP experience with one of the most important elements of their social context—medical students.
Using qualitative methods, we conducted four 1-hour semistructured focus group interviews with SPs (N = 18). Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. We used a constant comparative approach and consensus development to analyze the data and identify codes, categories, and ultimately themes. We used multiple methods to ensure credibility and trustworthiness of the study, as well as transparency of methods and thick rich descriptions to enable readers to judge transferability of the findings and conclusions.
We identified 4 major themes. Through their interactions, SPs experienced: (1) identity transformation toward a new professional identity; (2) self-actualization toward their maximum potential; (3) judgmental reactions to medical student behaviors; and (4) simulation-reality interaction between their simulated and real selves.
Through their interactions with medical students, SPs experienced a transformation into a complex identity composed of multiple roles. Within this identity, they found purpose, fulfillment, and self-actualization through fostering students', as well as their own, personal, and professional growth and through developing a higher sense of social responsibility. Within this identity, they also encountered the challenges of navigating between judging and supporting medical students, and toggling between their real and simulated selves. Guided by the SPs' perspectives, and in conjunction with professional organizational standards, we provide recommendations for training, recruitment, and retention of SPs.