Last fall I had the privilege of being part of the Patient Family Care Experience Program. It is collaboration between the University of Saskatchewan, the College of Medicine, and the Saskatoon Health Region. The program was developed as an elective for first-year medical students as a part of their Professional Skills course.
I was intrigued by the program, mostly because throughout my many years in and out of the health care system, I’ve had a lot of contact with medical students — from those who are just beginning their adventure in medicine, all the way to the 4th or 5th year residents. For the most part I enjoy having residents. But I also have come to realize that the one thing missing from their medical school education is guidance on how to communicate with patients and their families. If they don’t understand what I’m going through, I can’t tell whether they really they care or are just going through the motions.
My hope is that when someone goes into medicine, they not only want to learn the ways of medicine and heal the sick but also help the patient deal with their illnesses and educate them on the path to better health. Unfortunately, some of my interactions with medical students have not ended well. The main reason? They don’t talk to me as a person. I’m not sure if they depersonalize me so they can carry on with their day. But this only makes me not trust them as a physician and not want to work with them. Some students have belittled me, others have made me feel I am making up my illnesses, while still others have tried to prove a diagnosis made 14 years ago is wrong and begin the process of retesting again.
So I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the U of S program. I saw it as a great way to really work with students and help them understand the patient and paint for them a picture of what I have experienced.
We met at the orientation. I was assigned two lovely young women who were very excited to be in medicine. I was excited for them and hoped that what I shared with them in our meetings would be helpful. At the same time, I worried they would feel it was a waste of their time.
I briefly told them about my family and education, and explained how my training had been cut short by my illnesses. I also told them about my health and some of the things I have been through. They were very attentive and listened and asked questions. We met a few weeks later over coffee and continued our discussion. They wanted to know how I felt being sick and how I felt about my doctors. I was open and honest and talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I told them about the doctor who had my husband escorted out of the emergency department by security just because he asked the doctor to be a gentle with me because I was being admitted again and would miss Easter morning with my young children. I let them know that walking into the ICU and throwing a trach on the bedside table is NOT how you tell a patient that they need a tracheotomy.
I felt it was important for them to know what I have gone through. They were very respectful and I could see that the stories I told made them realize the life of a patient is not easy. They said they’d never thought of these things. They came to realize what an impact they, as doctors, would have on a patient’s life.
I brought my students to my treatments at RUH and they learned about ports and how they worked and also sat with me for one of the four treatments I get every week. I felt it was important to let them try living in my shoes and see what I go through.
We were supposed to meet one last time in the spring, but then say farewell to each other. This was the only part of the whole experience I had problems with. I felt as though this journey had just begun for my medical students and for me. I had hoped we would keep in contact at least until they were done medical school. From watching medical students over the years, I knew only too well that the things they learn in year one would soon be forgotten as they moved on to learn more new things.
Unfortunately the program requires us to part ways. I brought each of my students a little angel pin, and asked them to put it on the white coat they wear in medical school. I said it would be a reminder of them of me and my experiences. I told them my hope was that they would remember the experiences I’d told them about, and to treat all of their patients with the dignity and respect they so deserve, remembering to include them in all discussions, and work with them. I asked them to treat their patients the way they would want to be treated. I am hopeful that my students will carry our discussions with them through the years.
I was upset to learn that we are not supposed to continue the relationship we established. But my lovely students said they would let me know how their classes go in the years to come. They said this was an experience they would never forget. I am grateful for this because I want to have faith that students in our medical programs will become more patient and family centered.
As we move into fall, I am eager to participate again in this very important program. I hope that someday the program will part of all four years of medical school. I strongly believe that providers in training needed to be reminded year after year about the lessons they learn with us patients and families. I know that once they start their residency, their view can become jaded, especially if they learn from someone who is not patient and family centered focused.
Now that I know what to expect, this year’s program shouldn’t be so emotionally draining for me. Then again, because I am so passionate about this, I will probably be just as emotional. But I feel like it’s one small thing I can do to help students go on to become the best doctors they can be.