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Building empathy through the First Patient program

Building empathy through the First Patient program

One of the most unique aspects of undergraduate medicine curriculum is the First Patient Program. It offers students the opportunity to experience the healthcare process with a real patient; from the very beginning of their academic journeys.

At the start of the school year, each of our first year students is paired with a patient from the Kingston community. The student then accompanies the patient to treatments and appointments over the next 18 months. The program has three main objectives. The first, is to give students the opportunity to observe and assist, help to care for patients and buoy their spirits, while developing and honing diagnostic and treatment skills. The second is for our students to become holistically integrated into the lives of patients, in order to build the crucial skills every successful health care provider needs. And the third is to help students to develop an understanding that patient-care exists on a continuum, from prevention to diagnostics to treatment to wellness, across different services and specialties. Although the program officially runs until the end of their second year, many students often stay in touch with and continue to follow their patients even after the official period of the program is over.

Learning to be a good doctor is a personal as well as a professional task, and learning to deliver care patient-centered care is one of the keys to a successful practice. With that in mind, one of the biggest benefits to the program is that our students are developing something that cannot be taught in a classroom: empathy.

Alana Fleet and Jonathan Cluett are medical students who were paired with a patient, Bill, as part of the program. “While it’s easy to be interested in our medical findings, we should not see patients as specimens,” says Alana. “Rather, we need to see and act like they are people first, with a problem to attend to in the right way. We should be interested in them, but not only in what is “wrong’ with their body, since what we see as pathological is also their norm. What helps us to excel is by making connections between the small problem at hand and the whole person.”

Bill turned out to be a great pairing for Alana and Jonathan, not least because his wife Lorna was a constant companion, sharing her own healthcare story, creating a two-in-one situation for the students to respond to. “I now better appreciate that even when patients are positive and motivated, their healthcare experiences are complicated and varied,” says Alana. “In my first report I commented on the ease of developing a relationship with my patient. While this was the case with Bill, it’s not that way with all patients and professionals. Even for Bill, his relationships vary with his doctors and other providers. Subtle aspects of your personality or behaviours can strengthen a physician-patient relationship or break it down quite quickly. Thus, I have become much more self-aware and open to ask for feedback, to gauge my interactions with patients.”

Jonathan’s sentiments echo Alana’s. “Above all else, Bill and Lorna have taught me the simplest lesson: to care for the whole person. Again, this is not a novel concept. Medical students hear it from day one. But it doesn’t quite click until you see it firsthand. I feel humbled to have learned so much from this program. I will always remember Bill and Lorna my true ‘first’ patients.”

Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House…my door is always open.

 

Thank you to Jen Valberg for her help in preparing this blog.

David Ohrling

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:31

There is nothing like first hand experience and I am sure enlightenment on the patient perspective didn’t truly occur for many of us until well into our careers. It can’t be taught or learned in the classroom and the sooner these lessons are learned the better. Thanks for sharing this story. Brilliant program.

David Ohrling

Richard

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:31

Thank you for your comment David. It is always a pleasure to share stories about what we are doing here in the Faculty of Health sciences.
Richard

Richard

Bill Moore Meds ''62

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:32

Richard, Queen’s First Patient Program is truly outstanding for encouraging Med students to consider careers in Primary Healthcare. Thanks to you and Jen Valberg for helping many of us appreciate how innovative our Med School is. I came to Queen’s with a bias favoring research, received encouragement and went that way while classmates did well as Family Practitioners or clinical specialists. I hope the best eligible Med students will become aware of the First Patient Program and want to come to Queen’s. Their aspirations and dedication will reinforce the leadership of Queen’s Medical School.

Bill Moore Meds ''62

Hi Bill,
I completely agree. Innovative programming certainly plays a role in attracting the best and brightest medical students to Queen’s. Thank you for your comment.
Richard

Richard

Moira Browne

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:33

One of my patients was paired with two of your first year students. I met with them twice, once with my patient and her spouse and later for a final wrap up. They’d gained insight into the patient’s perspective that is crucial. As to my bit, they told me that watching my patient’s interaction with me gave them a window into the comfortable short hand that comes after a long relationship with a family doc. I think the idea is stellar. Glad to have seen it made a part of the curriculum and glad to have participated.

Moira Browne

Tony Sanfilippo

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:33

Thanks for recognizing this program Richard. I believe it’s become an important and distinctive component of our curriculum and certainly provides the students with valuable insights into both the patient experience and the physician role. I’d like to recognize Kathy Bowes and Sheila Pinchin who were instrumental in developing and designing the program, and Course Director Dr. Phil Wattam.

Tony Sanfilippo

Hi Tony,
Thank you for pointing out Kathy, Sheila and Phil’s critical role in making this program a success – it wouldn’t be the high-quality initiative that it is without their hard work and dedication.
Richard

Richard

Al Spear. Meds 60

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:34

What a wonderful idea, hopefully will promote a huge interest in Family Medicine

Al Spear. Meds 60

Sayeed

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:34

Why school will nominate for president scholarship based on grade 11 mark and activity? It could have biasness.Some student could do better in grade 12 . Unfortunately my son couldn’t apply even to Queens although his marks and activity is higher than all other student in school. Looks like Queens created this system to reduce workload which is not fair. It is just a road block for best students.

Sayeed

Thank you for your reply.
My son was very much interested to get into QuARMS.
Because of president scholarship requirement & on top of that Grade 11 mark for president scholarship, he couldn’t apply even to Queens.
It made him frustrated.

Sayeed

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