Patients are key to our students’ learning
Students have been part of my health care journey long before I became an educational developer at Queen’s School of Medicine.
When my daughter was born in 1995 in Fredericton, NB, I had not one but two nursing students from the University of New Brunswick assigned to me. For each of them, I was their first ever patient. I was also their only assigned patient. As a first-time mom, this was both gratifying (they pretty much catered to my every need from running baths to making me snacks) and faintly terrifying (like when they, under their preceptor’s watchful eye, demonstrated to me how to give my newborn a sponge bath) and slightly uncomfortable (post-partum abdominal palpations aren’t fun at the best of times, let alone by a learner who isn’t quite sure what they’re looking for).
My mantra at the time was: “They have to learn somewhere – why not with me?”
And it’s true – there’s only so much to be learned in a classroom, a mock clinic, or simulation lab. Ultimately, our medical students consolidate all that learning during their two-year clerkship period where they engage with real patients, in real hospitals and real clinics, supervised by staff and resident physicians.
In my role as an educational developer, this is a part of their education that I don’t typically see first-hand. I’m generally classroom-based in the coaching I provide to faculty, and it’s hard to be an unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall observer of patient encounters when you aren’t a member of the healthcare team.
As a patient (and parent of a patient, and partner of a patient), however, I’ve had several opportunities to see our clinical clerks in action first hand.
I’ve watched a senior clerk valiantly (and ultimately successfully) conduct a physical exam on my pleasant-but-non-cooperative then-nine-year-old son.
I saw another clerk—working on a rotation with anesthesia—get a reluctant laugh out of my grumpy (from fasting) and nervous (because, well, surgery) husband during the pre-op airway examination and checklist.
Most recently, one of our clerks independently led off an appointment I had at my family physician’s office. I’ve hit a milestone birthday (full disclosure: 50) that can trigger a number of screening tests and things. The clerk was well-prepared, asked me good questions, and had good information. It was clear to me that they had at least scanned my file before coming into the room and had done their homework on the types of screening tests that might be relevant to me.
Along the way, I’ve also seen some of the various ways the clinical clerkship preceptors supervise and monitor our students’ learning.
For the clerk who examined my son: after a consultation outside the exam room, the clerk and physician came in together for the rest of the appointment. There was a Q&A amongst all of us which included gentle coaching and good feedback for the clerk.
Prior to my husband’s surgery, after the clerk’s exam, the anesthesiologist followed up with their own exam and pointed out a couple of things to the clerk – who then had another look down my husband’s throat which they and the physician then discussed.
For my encounter, I know my clinic has video monitoring (as there are signs posted in the examination rooms) and the clerk themselves noted they were going out to consult with the physician.
These are all different ways that clinic-based teaching and learning takes place. And that’s due in large part to patients who willingly engage in these encounters. As part of the UGME team, I feel a certain obligation and responsibility for their education and training. Most other patients don’t have this same motivation and it’s their generosity that makes this learning possible.
Through not only their classroom based studies, but especially their clinical skills training over two years, their simulation lab work, and our First Patient Project, our students are ready to engage with patients and be part of the healthcare team in their clerkship years. A sincere thank you to patients in Kingston and at our regional sites who engage with them as they learn.