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Learning the art and science of standardized patients

For Janet Lo, “interdisciplinary” is just another word for everyday. With a background in acting, she brings art, communication, education and nursing science into one role at the School of Nursing.

Lo is the standardized patient program director and SP educator for the Simulation Center. “SP” is an industry-standard term for both standardized and simulated patients. These are individuals who portray patients so students can develop their clinical communication skills.

An elderly woman sits at a table looking at an electronic tablet.
Janet Lo portrays “Georgia Taylor” as a standardized patient in the Simulation Center.

“This is essentially acting,” Lo said. However, she is quick to emphasize: “It’s not our job to deliver an Academy Award performance.”

Instead, standardized patients must adapt during the simulation and respond to students in the most appropriate way for their learning.

“Let’s say that I’m playing a really, really intense role where I’m upset and I’m crying, and the student is struggling with that,” Lo said. “If I was just an actor, I’d continue to do what I’m doing. As a standardized patient, if I see that they’re struggling with that, I may help them out a little bit.”

In this way, a standardized patient’s job is more back-and-forth communication and less one-way performance, much like improvisation.

“As a standardized patient, we have to be pliable that way and know who our audience is, and really, our role in the room is to give the student the opportunity to learn and practice their skills,” Lo said.

But before she ever began educating, Lo was acting.

From the stage to simulations

Beginning her career as an actor in Toronto, Lo knew she would need what she called a “survival job” – steady income that paid the bills and put food on the table. “It made sense to become a standardized patient,” she said. So for ten years, that’s how she made her living.

Janet Lo stands in blue lighting on a stage with two other women.
Lo (right) performing with the Alley Repertory Theater at the Visual Arts Collective in Garden City this past fall.

When her family moved to Boise, she pursued avenues to continue being a standardized patient in the Treasure Valley. She grew into an expert in the craft, developing top-notch organization and communication abilities. It didn’t take long for others at the School Nursing to notice her skillset, and she soon found herself in her current full-time position.

Now she spends her days immersed in the world of standardized patients, from scheduling to training and scenario preparation. Although much of her work goes on behind the scenes, Lo loves training other standardized patients to be the best educators they can be.

Because of Lo’s work, the center’s team never has to worry if their standardized patients are good enough; because of Lo, they know they are.

Lo scrutinizes a camera that projects a larger image of herself in the background
Lo acting in a play she produced and co-created called “Madame Mao”.

“Janet has built our standardized patient program from a small pool of minimally-trained medical actors to a large team of organized, regularly reviewed, and specialized professionals,” said Casey Blizzard, the operations coordinator at the Simulation Center. “Her ongoing work is invaluable to the Boise State simulation department and continues to improve our health science educational programs.”

In addition to her role at the Simulation Center, Lo remains active in the arts. Most recently, she wrote and acted in a play featured in a Toronto festival, and she will perform in an upcoming show with the Boise Contemporary Theater.

Discover more about Lo and her work with standardized patients