About ASPE

In 1963 a neurologist by the name of Howard Barrows discovered that a lay person could be trained to simulate illness and give feedback to medical students about their history and communication skills. He called this person a simulated patient and defined it as “a person who has been carefully coached to simulate an actual patient so accurately that the simulation cannot be detected by a skilled clinician. In performing the simulation, the SP presents the gestalt of the patient being simulated; not just the history, but the body language, the physical findings, and the emotional and personality characteristics as well." Gradually, the use of the simulated patient began to grow in medical education. Educators found that simulated patients offered not only a variety of teaching opportunities for students, but also opportunities for testing student performance. Out of this testing environment grew the term “standardized patient” or “SP.”

As simulated/standardized patient methodology grew, educators felt a need to develop an organization that could foster the growth of the profession that was creating and supporting this new methodology. Thus, in 2001, the Association of Standardized Patient Educators was formed. Since that time, our membership has grown along with the concept of standardized patients. Its use has expanded into many fields including dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and allied health professions. Over the last two decades, three simulation modalities have become intertwined - scenarios may now include SPs, task trainers and/or manikins; commonly known as “hybrid” simulations.

In 2017 ASPE’s Standards of Best Practice updated the definition of SP:

The terms standardized patient and simulated patient (SP) are often used interchangeably and refer to a person trained to portray a patient in realistic and repeatable ways. SPs interact with learners in experiential education and assessment contexts. Learners, depending on the context, are variously described as students, trainees, participants, examinees, or candidates. SPs can also provide feedback on learner performance from the perspective of the person they portray, which is unique to working with SPs. SP-based education has grown in size and scope of practice to include many different roles. For this reason, the term simulated participant is being used as a more inclusive term to refer to all human role players in any simulation context.

The context in which SPs are working determines the degree of repeatability or standardization (consistency and accuracy) of their behavior, both within an individual SP’s performance and between SPs portraying the same role. This behavior can be seen as part of a continuum. On one end of the continuum, in high stakes assessment, SPs may be trained to behave in a highly repeatable or standardized manner in order to give each learner a fair and equal chance and are often referred to as standardized patients. It is important to note that in this context, SPs are individuals whose behavior has been standardized. In formative educational settings, where standardization may not play an important part of the session design, carefully trained SPs are able to respond with more authenticity and flexibility to the needs of individual learners and are referred to as simulated patients.


For more detailed history of ASPE’s role in the development of SP methodology, click here.

Mission Statement

ASPE is the international organization of simulation educators dedicated to:

  • Promoting best practices in the application of SP methodology for education, assessment and research
  • Fostering the dissemination of research and scholarship in the field of SP methodology
  • Advancing the professional knowledge and skills of its members

Transforming professional performance through the power of human interaction.