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Acad Psychiatry. 2002 Mar;26(1):26-30.

The Challenge of Empathy: A Pilot Study of the Use of Standardized Patients to Teach Introductory Psychopathology to Medical Students.

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The authors are affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Medical School, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, Rochester, Minnesota. Address correspondence to Dr. Krahn, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology--W11A, Mayo Clinic, 200 1st Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail:


This pilot study compares standardized and actual psychiatric patients used to teach introductory psychopathology. In a blinded manner, students and psychiatric faculty interviewed both types of patients, using a small group format. Before and after the course, students and faculty completed a questionnaire about expectations and effectiveness. Students were divided in their opinions of standardized patients but generally preferred actual patients. Faculty were initially noncommittal, but after the course they strongly preferred actual patients. Although standardized patients offer some advantages over actual patients, limitations included difficulty developing empathy. Standardized patients could potentially be trained to convey emotions realistically, but further study of this is needed.

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