It was beyond awkward

I was a model patient – Laura.

When I was 16, I got a job as a “standardized patient”. Because apparently you can make it through 4 years of undergraduate, a rigorous medical school application process, and, you know, normal life experiences, but still require formalized practice in speaking with other actual humans.

My character profile was a real gem. I worked at Taco Bell after school, and I started sleeping with my manager. He was 23 and had a motorcycle. We had unprotected sex because he didn’t like condoms. So I was looking for birth control pills. I was supposed to act embarrassed and shy, and evasive and reluctant in answering questions. The young doctors-to-be were supposed to recognize that I was at risk for STDs and domestic violence and set me on a better path.

It was beyond awkward. Awkward was a dead fly on our rear view mirror. I would’ve killed for it to just be “awkward”. I had to pretend I was there for a headache, because I was too embarrassed to come out and say I needed to talk about sex. So the medical student would start on a rigorous course of questioning about my headaches to which I infuriatingly answered “I don’t know” to every questions. This charade continued until finally, exacerbated after wasting 12 of their 15 minutes on my obvious non-headache, they would ask, “So what are you really here for?!”

Here’s a tip for medical students – if a standardized patient encounter ends with a 16 year old girl yelling to get your hands off of her, then you have failed.

All that being said, being a standardized patient was the best job you can possibly give a teenage girl. I literally got paid $30 per hour to be lectured about having safe sex. At 16 years old, I knew more about syphilis, HPV and how teenage pregnancy would ruin my life than any other virgin ever.

Once I was in medical school, it was my turn to awkwardly harass pretend-patients …

Read the full post at the Dr Fizzy McFizz blog.


This is an excerpt from a competition-winning medical humour essay. It rings squirmingly true.

The model/ standardized/ fake patient has potential to be a rich vein. In Alan Bennet’s 2012 story The Greening of Mrs Donaldson (from Smut: Two Unseemly Stories) a model patient of more senior years strikes up a relationship with one of the teachers. And gets up to surprising things in a mannered way at home, possibly a way to a new life, but that’s another story.

Laura’s tale also touches nicely on anxieties about talking about sex, and sex organs. Perhaps using humour to probe makes it easier to think about and discuss, and maybe that process of discussion helps normalise the conversation. So it becomes easier when you need to engage in it professionally, as long as you don’t laugh. Does putting those discussions in the public domain risk that approach? A Posy Simmonds cartoon also explores the awkwardness on both sides.

Laura also shows a hint of the scepticism of students about simulated communication settings.

Further info

Contributed by

Neil Turner

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