STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Most of us do not enjoy going to the doctor's office. But it turns out you can earn money doing that. Standardized patients are people who take on fake identities and health issues in order to help train medical students. As part of our series on odd jobs for teens, Maine Public Radio's Patty Wight introduces us to one teenager who says this odd job is a perfect match for her.
PATTY WIGHT, BYLINE: Some of us are lucky enough to stumble into jobs that we love. That was the case for 16-year-old Gabrielle Nuki. She'd never heard of standardized patients, until her adviser at school told her she should check it out.
GABRIELLE NUKI: I was kind of shocked, and I was kind of like, oh, is there actually something like this in the world?
WIGHT: Nuki wants to be a doctor someday. So the chance to earn 15 to 20 bucks an hour training medical students as a pretend patient was kind of a dream-come-true. Every six weeks or so, Nuki comes to Maine Medical Center in Portland, slips on a johnny, sits in an exam room and takes on a new persona.
ALLIE TETREAULT: Hey, there, Emma?
WIGHT: Third-year medical student Allie Tetreault knows Nuki by her fictional patient name, Emma. A lot of teens avoid the doctor, so it's important for Tetreault to learn how to make them feel comfortable.
TETREAULT: What kind of things do you like to do outside of school?
NUKI: (As Emma) I play soccer, and so preseason is coming up soon.
WIGHT: Nuki preps weeks ahead of time for her patient roles. She memorizes a case history of family details, lifestyle habits and the tone she should present.
NUKI: I've had one case where I was concerned about being pregnant. And that was kind of the most, like, harsh one I guess.
WIGHT: As Emma, Nuki's playing just a shy, healthy teen.
TETREAULT: So how'd school finish up for you this year?
NUKI: (As Emma) It was good. Yeah, school's been good. Yeah.
WIGHT: It's an easy role, Nuki says. But she ups the shyness factor because it poses a classic challenge to the medical student - how to get a teen to open up.
NUKI: Each case kind of has what's on paper. But then you can come in and kind of add another level, depending on how complex it is already. But you can add kind of your own twist to it.
WIGHT: After asking Emma about her personal history, Allie Tetreault moves on to the physical exam and listens as Emma takes deep breaths.
Tetreault gives a clean bill of health, and the practice appointment is over. But the most important part of Gabrielle Nuki's job is now going to begin. The 16-year-old now has to evaluate this adult professional. She's smooth and tactile after lots of training on how to deliver feedback. Nuki tells Tetreault she did a good job of making her feel comfortable.
NUKI: I also liked how you mentioned confidentiality because my age group, that's importance to touch on. And I think that maybe you could've had a couple more times where you asked me if I had any questions. But other than that, I think you did a really great job.
WIGHT: It's communication skills versus acting skills that really qualifies someone to be a standardized patient, says Dr. Pat Patterson, the director of pediatric training at Maine Medical Center.
PAT PATTERSON: A lot of times, patients really want to please their physician. So it's not easy for a patient to say, that didn't feel right, or the way you asked that made me feel badly.
WIGHT: Gabrielle Nuki says working with medical students and being forthright about their performance has given her more confidence. In the future, she hopes to take on more complex roles, maybe someone with depression. But she knows no matter what kind of patient she portrays, this job will prepare her well for when she reverses roles and one day becomes a doctor. For NPR News, I'm Patty Wight.
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