Humanizing the future of health care
During their visits, patients see physicians for only a short period of time. Some doctors feel this is all they need to know about an individual in order to help them through their illnesses. However illnesses can have a very far-reaching effect. It can affect the individual, their ability to work, relationships with others, how they are able to manage in the community to name just a few of the potential challenges.
Through Patients as Teachers we recognize that physicians need to be mindful of the person and family who are struggling with illness. Understanding the global effect of an illness is an important concept to teach our future physicians. It is for this reason that we pair two first year students with a patient who has graciously offered their time. During their first year of medical school, Penn State students are able to visit their patients at home or within other locations. Through these visits, they learn the many ways that a person’s life can be affected when they struggle with ill health. They understand coping strategies and resilience. The students learn about positive and negative interactions that their patients have had with the healthcare system. By understanding how individuals view their interactions with doctors, students can recognize and develop positive professional communication skills.
The privilege of visiting an individual in their home to learn about what it means to be a patient provides students with a profound understanding of illness from a perspective not found in most U.S. medical schools. Many students find the Patients as Teachers program to be one of the most significant aspects of their medical education, and it is not unusual for the relationship to continue throughout medical school.
The Medical Humanities Curriculum
Improving the doctor-patient relationship is the domain—and essence—of Medical Humanities. A key component of the Medical Humanities curriculum is the Patient as Teachers (PAT) course which focuses on two people: the patient and the professional caregiver. Each brings his or her unique perspective, history, belief system, strength and weakness to the doctor-patient relationship. Medical Humanities explores topics such as empathy, suffering and resilience, death and dying, and the culture of medicine and medical education.
Embedded into the first year of the curriculum is the experiential Patients as Teachers Project, which involves students visiting patients in their homes to learn about the lived experience of illness. Some students make short films about their patients and screen them in each spring. Others write essays reflecting on what they have learned from their patients or develop creative projects to honor their patients’ stories.