The Chronicle-Herald NovaScotia, Friday, August 13, 2010, p. A4
John Mcphee Health Reporter
Karen Smith has dealt with a lot of doctors in her life.
The Halifax woman has suffered from chronic pain as a result of spinal stenosis for more than 25 years. The sciatic nerves in her spinal column are compressed because her vertebrae are unusually narrow.
“It’s miserable,” Smith said in a recent interview. “But I get up every day and I know I have to put one foot in front of the other.”
She also has made it a priority to take her medical treatment seriously. Patients have a responsibility to be prepared for their medical appointments and learn as much as possible about their conditions.
And she believes doctors have a responsibility to recognize that it’s a person, not just a condition, sitting in front of them.
Smith is participating in a new program at Dalhousie University that aims to drive that message home for medical students right from the get-go.
The health mentors program will be launched at Dalhousie medical school in September. Students will be arranged into four- to five-person teams. They will be matched with a person with a chronic illness, whom they will follow throughout the academic year and into the next year.
“It’s mostly to get them to really understand that the patient is a whole person,” Smith said.
The students literally will be getting the patient’s life story, said Susan Nasser, the co-ordinator of the health mentors program.
“Everybody has a life outside of their illness,” Nasser said in a recent interview.
While the students won’t provide medical treatment, they will try to learn as much as possible about the person’s experiences with the health–caresystem.
They will ask questions such as “when they were diagnosed and how that happened?” Nasser said. “What kind of health–care providers they’ve seen? What went well and what didn’t go well?”
The program also aims to give students a more overarching view of medical treatment. To that end, each team will include students from a range ofhealth–care professions, such as medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
“Every profession has its particular scope of practice but there are some things that everybody has to do,” Nasser said. “Communicating with the patient is one of them and doing that respectively.
“In the real world, we’re seeing more emphasis on collaborative practices as well. . . . We have to ask ourselves, how are we preparing students for that?”
Most students are in the first year of their program, but there are a few exceptions, Nasser said. For instance, respiratory therapy students take part in the third year of their program.
Andrew Aucoin, a respiratory therapy student from Lower Sackville, said he’s excited about being involved in the launch of the program.
“It’s going to be really interesting to hear the pros and cons of what people have experienced with the health–care system,” the 20-year-old said. “We know it’s not perfect. We want to know how it can be done better and sometimes that’s not obvious.”
Nasser hopes to recruit about 130 health mentors and she’s about halfway to that goal.
“A program like this wouldn’t be successful without the mentors being willing to take part in this and share their stories,” she said. “It’s amazing that so many people are willing to jump in and make this really valuable contribution to health-professional education.”
If you wish to participate, call Nasser at 494-1852 or email .
( ‘It’s mostly to get them to really understand that the patient is a whole person.’