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SP to MD: My Alternate Route to Medical School

It was just supposed to be a temporary job.

At least that was what I envisioned when I started my position as a standardized patient at Albany Medical College. Four months earlier, I graduated a semester early from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama. When I applied to be an standardized patient (SP), I was searching for a way to take my acting career to the next level. I was fortunate enough to experience some moderate success in New York and other professional companies, where I performed in plays, musicals and television ads. With my Equity card (proof of my membership in the professional actors union) in hand, I thought I was ready to employ all the skills I had learned in acting school to my career as a professional actress.

However, soon after graduating from NYU, I realized how starkly different the entertainment business is from the nurturing, humanistic approach I encountered in acting school. I spent much of my time on auditioning, preparing and meeting agents. With so much of my time used up in trying to secure acting jobs, little time was left for volunteering or helping others. These charitable events were tenets stressed in my life growing up. The faculty at my acting studio also reinforced these ideals by encouraging us students to give back to the community by participating in benefit performances for HIV/AIDS fundraising or volunteering to teach acting classes for underserved inner-city youths. As a professional actress, I felt I wasn’t fully contributing to the advancement of society. I began to question what I was doing. Acting, which had once given me a purpose, now felt like restraints holding me back. While I wasn’t completely ready to admit it to myself, deep down I knew that I wasn’t cut out for a life in the entertainment business.

In an effort to make some money (and as a way to keep my acting skills sharp), I applied and was accepted to act as an SP. The initial trainings seemed a little ridiculous. Do I seriously have to mark students off for not introducing themselves by their full first and last name, or for listening to heart sounds over the hospital gown? But my trainer said it was important for the Step 2 CS (whatever that was), so I just agreed to do whatever the checklist demanded of me.

For my first few cases, I was assigned to portray young women with various forms of abdominal pain. While the acting portion of it was fun, it surprised me how interesting it was to provide the medical students with feedback at the end of the encounter. I found myself looking up the pathophysiology of the diseases I depicted, wondering about the optimal manner in which to treat them.

I can’t exactly remember when the first pangs of jealousy hit, but I believe it was within a couple of months of starting. I tried to hush the initial thoughts of “I want to do that,” but soon I couldn’t deny that I wanted to be on the student’s stool rather than the patient’s exam table. I couldn’t resist it any longer — I wanted to go to med school. I wanted to become a physician.

Since I had not taken any of the prerequisite courses as a fine arts major, I registered for classes as a non-matriculated student in order to create my own post-bac program. At first, I only told my immediate family and closest friends. When anyone asked how my acting career was going, I would give a vague answer and immediately start talking about my fondness of being an SP. It wasn’t until I had finished general chemistry and biology that I told people that I intended to apply to medical school.

I was  initially nervous that I would be asked to resign from my SP position. Fortunately, when I informed my supervisors that I intended to apply to medical school, they were incredible supportive and understanding. They even allowed me to take on new projects to help expand my (very meager) medical knowledge. As as SP, I was allowed the opportunity to learn practical skills such as delivering a baby, inserting a central line under ultrasound guidance, differentiating abnormal heart and lung sounds, performing a focused history and physical, and most importantly, communicating with patients, and their family and loved ones.

While my journey to medical school was not the most conventional, I would not change the way it came to fruition. This experience allowed me to see the real impact that medical students can have on patients even while still in school. Now that I am a medical student myself, there are times when I feel that I am not the one making a real difference. However, I know that medical students changed my life. Even if they were not aware of it at that time, my life has changed due to my interactions with physicians-to-be. If I am lucky enough, by the time I graduate, I hope I will have impacted someone else’s life as well.

Alexandra Taffany Alexandra Taffany (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University at Buffalo

Alexandra graduated in 2010 from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, but is currently in the class of 2017 at the University at Buffalo. She is thinking of specializing in emergency medicine when she grows up, but she is also interested in medical education, medical simulation, and medical humanities. When she is not cramming obscene amounts of scientific information into her head, she enjoys Zumba, running, and practicing Shakespearean monologues.

  • That is awesome. Life is great, everyone gets to their purpose eventually. (Mom researching)