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Around town: Where’s the Patient’s Voice …?

By English: Clinic Painter (eponymous vase)Français : Peintre de la Clinique (vase éponyme) (User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-07-21) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMost of the conferences covered in the Around Town series are annual or occasionally biennial events, hosting professionals for continuing education to update their skills, knowledge base and networking in the subject of their passion. The Patient’s Voice conference, held November 12–14, 2015 in Vancouver, was different: this was an evaluation of progress made since the first meeting ten years ago.

Organized by Interprofessional Continuing Education at the University of British Columbia, the conference brought together a diverse collection of human resources to speak on the subject. From clinicians to patients, caregivers, community organizers, policy-makers and teachers, delegates discussed how and why health care benefits from including the end users’ perspectives in all levels of clinical education.

So how can educators ensure that the patient’s experience is embedded in clinical training as an insight into the end-user point of view? According to the conference program, there are various strategies to enrich professional education by patient involvement. One workshop that caught my eye, especially with Talk Science to Me’s approach to communicating science, was The Importance of Storytelling: How Real-life Encounters with the Healthcare System Can Improve the Patient-Care Experience.

According to this paper (Haigh and Hardy, 2010), storytelling does indeed have value in health care education.1 In addition to helping students make sense of information, using storytelling to deliver user experiences helps clinicians empathize with their patients by bringing the clinician into the storyteller’s world. It also prepares clinicians to follow patient narratives and to cope with ambiguity and deviation as they relay signs, symptoms, lifestyle details and anxieties in a health care setting.

Speaking personally, having been through a clinical training program, I know it’s quite different learning from a textbook and then being presented with a scenario in real life. What is on paper a straightforward decision tree, eliminating differential diagnoses and laying out a therapeutic management plan, becomes much more complicated when emotions, finances, and real-life flesh and blood join the mix. Even when treating non-human animals, as I did, a logical decision to amputate a limb “because cancer” is difficult to deal with rationally when it’s your own fur baby on the chopping block.

I would have been a much better small-animal practitioner had I appreciated what my patients’ owners were also dealing with when I laid out the therapeutic strategies available. A little insight goes a long way—it’s so much more than science.

2nd International Conference: Where’s the Patient’s Voice in Health Professional Education – 10 Years On?
Vancouver, BC
November 12–14, 2015

1.Haigh, Carol and Pip Hardy. “Tell Me a Story–A Conceptual Exploration of Storytelling in Healthcare Education.” Nurse Education Today 31(4) (2010): 408–11.

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