Purpose: Physical exam skills are essential to core competencies for physicians in training. It is increasingly difficult to secure time and funding for physician faculty to teach these critical skills. This study was designed to determine whether Patient Educators (PE) (non-physician instructors) in an introductory clinical medicine (ICM) course (1) were as effective as physician faculty in teaching the physical exam, (2) impacted consistency of student performance on a final practical exam, and (3) whether this model was cost effective. Method: PE were introduced into an ICM course at the University of Minnesota from 2006 to 2008. Each year, students' physical exam competencies were evaluated by a performance-based head-to-toe examination and 6 months later by an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). Differences in test scores between years and variability (i.e., consistency) among yearly scores were assessed. The cost per student was calculated by considering a stable compensation cost per hour for the required number of physician faculty, standardized patients, and PE in each year. Results: Mean student performance was statistically lower with PE, but only by two percentage points. The amount of variation within the medical student classes' physical exam skills remained stable as the use of PE expanded. Total educator salary costs per student declined from $449 in 2006 to $196 in 2008. Conclusions: In terms of sustainability and student performance, the use of trained lay educators has equivalent outcomes and is less costly for physical exam instruction in the pre-clinical years.