There’s a column over at McSweeney’s called “Playing Doctor” which breaks down the complex choreography of standardized patient encounters. In medical school, students learn history-taking and physical exam by practicing on actors who play patients. Robert Isenberg, an actor and SP, describes nervous students who stick to scripts, what it’s like to “act” cancer, and how playing pretend can seem like the real deal (from The Bad News):
My fingers are latticed, and they clench themselves white. I stare off with darting eyes, run my tongue inside my cheek. Whatever it is I’m not saying, it’s really bothering me.
“May I ask what kind of test?” the woman says. Her voice is funeral-hushed.
“Well,” I say. “I found a lump. Just over my collar bone.” I let out a gruff sigh. I nod a little, as if confirming what I’ve just said. “The thing is, I’ve been through all this before.”