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Answer Man: But will they believe you if you call in sick?

Dear Answer ...

Dear Answer Man, I’ve heard of a handful of people in town taking part in "medical acting" at Mayo Clinic. What exactly is a "medical actor" and how does one get into that line of work?

Sincerely, Not an actor

Dear Actor,

A standardized patient or medical actor is different than pretending to be sick to get out of work/school/life responsibilities. But in fairness to Ferris Bueller , you don’t have to be a trained actor to be a successful standardized patient.

The Multidisciplinary Simulation Center at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester comprises 11,500 square feet of dedicated experiential learning space and employs 90 to 100 people to serve as standardized patients. Those "patients" range in age from about 16 to upwards of 80 and come from all walks of life, according to Kathy Keech, the Standardized Patient Program supervisor. While some the standardized patients are actors by trade, Keech said the most important trait is being believable, up close and personal.

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Previously, the only way to find out about the job of standardized patient was through word of mouth, but now when there are openings, they go up on Mayo job boards, Keech explained.

According to a posting on Mayo’s careers site, "Previous acting experience preferred." And the right candidate "Must meet certain clinical demographic specifications depending on case needs." Additional qualifications for the job include excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well as the ability to work well within a team.

Bari Amadio has been a standardized patient for close to 20 years. In that time, she said, she’s been a biker chick, a depressed individual and even a bigot. She’s also gotten every cancer diagnosis out there, she said.

She described her work as a standardized patient as being "the first line of defense" in training future doctors before they see real patients.

"It’s a lot of fun because you get to play someone who you are really not in real life," Amadio said.

Gene McGarry has been a standardized patient for about 15 years and said that in that time, he has seen the program evolve.

"I’ve played all different types of people who are sick," McGarry said, noting that he has a theatrical background. McGarry also works as a park ranger at a state park. When he moved to Rochester from Chicago, he wasn’t counting on getting his acting career going again.

"I love what I do, it’s very rewarding," McGarry said. "It’s a great place, great learning environment. I very feel lucky to be doing programs and scenarios that help doctors and people in general."

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