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Medical Students' Strategies for Standardized Tests of Communication

Project: 11
Name: Kelly Underman, PhD |
Department: Sociology


The use of standardized patients (SPs) is now common and widespread in medical schools in the United States. An SP is an actor who has been trained to roleplay a patient with a particular illness or condition. In these encounters, medical students will interact with the SP as though with a real patient in a clinical encounter. The SP will then use a standardized evaluation form to rate the medical student's communication and interaction skills. While these encounters are fake, they provide important opportunities for medical students to practice. And yet, because these encounters are graded using standardized metrics, medical students are aware of the need to perform to the test. This becomes interesting for sociologists, as these encounters deal with questions of empathetic communication and emotional engagement. How do medical students understand these requirements? In this project, and undergraduate student will work on a content analysis of medical student web forum discussions about encounters with SPs. This project will involve collecting, organizing and coding web-based content from sources such as Reddit. The fellowship student will work closely with Professor Underman on quantitative and qualitative coding of medical students' discussions. This project will investigate how medical students understand, experience and communicate about standardized simulated tests of their communication and interpersonal skills.


The selected student will gather and organize screenshots, qualitatively and quantitatively code these, write memos and summaries of coding, and participate in gathering scholarly research articles.

Gained Experience

The selected student will gain familiarity with literature in sociology on professional socialization, as well as project management and qualitative research skills. The selected student may develop this project into their own and/or present on this research at academic conferences.


The expected outcome of this is academic conference presentations and a scholarly publication. In particular, Professor Underman intends to submit to the 2020 Eastern Sociological Society conference, which will be held in Philadelphia next February.


The project will take place in the department of sociology and wherever the student chooses to work.

Possibility to Work Post Fellowship