Guest post by Dr. Cassia Tremblay (IMP Class of 2021)
Ulcerative colitis completely changed Taylor Lussier’s life.
“Way back when, I used to take pride in being a reliable and punctual friend. With the evolution of my chronic illnesses, I’m not that person anymore. A lot of people don’t realize that. I didn’t realize that,” he says.
Ulcerative colitis is characterized by repeated episodes of inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Instead of letting the disease dictate his entire life, however, Taylor decided to make his own positive change: he volunteered to share his complicated healthcare journey with medical students through the Island Medical Program’s (IMP) First Patient Program (FPP). “There is no better use of my situation in life than to share it—to teach it,” says Taylor.
The IMP developed the unique FPP to teach future physicians about the human side of medicine. As a volunteer, Taylor is paired with two first-year medical students. They get to know each other through six or seven sessions over the course of 11 months in a variety of settings, including Taylor’s home, his physician’s office, and at his pre-existing healthcare appointments. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the FPP is currently operating on a hybrid model, with some sessions occurring in-person and some occurring virtually.
“The students are experiencing my medical history as it grows with me. It’s a good way to share my experience in real-time; our relationship grows through shared context. They’re seeing the look on your face when news is delivered, and the way your doctor deals with you personally,” says Taylor. “It’s a good foundation for learning and to blossom empathy.”
While the students do learn from the doctors directing these healthcare visits, Taylor is a teacher in his own right. However, Taylor believes that his best teaching moments with the students happen during conversations in the waiting room, prior to the appointments. It’s in these moments that Taylor can share his fears, ideas, and expectations of care with the students. The students learn to see Taylor outside the context of a clinical exam room, and in turn see all patients as complex individuals. Taylor himself finds that these conversations help him define his own healthcare goals.
By providing these opportunities for connection, the FPP allows medical students to truly form honest and trusting relationships with their first patient. “These relationships allow student doctors to deeply understand a patient and their illness,” says Dr. Margaret Manville, the IMP’s Year 1&2 Family Medicine Director, Clinical Experiences. “It’s rare for medical students to have the time and opportunity to get to know patients in a longitudinal way, but this continuity is vital in family practice and other fields of medicine.” Evidence shows that continuous care allows doctors to accumulate knowledge about their patients, helping to save time and influence treatment decisions. Patients are not only more satisfied with the service, but the reduction in time and the more judicious use of tests and treatments all improved the general efficiency of the healthcare system. In long-standing doctor-patient relationships, patients are also likely to value their relationship with their doctor more and feel they had more control over their health. This is especially true for patients with chronic illness.
“I know me; I know what works for me. I am the expert in my chronic care and illness,” says Taylor. He feels that his long-term doctors are more willing to search for new avenues of treatment when he requests it, and are able to create a treatment plan that aligns with his values and priorities. By letting the medical students into these conversations, Taylor hopes that he is encouraging a new generation of doctors to pursue personalized and compassionate care. “Tons of health conditions find ways to impact every aspect of your life, and a lot of doctors might not have time to realize that in a busy practice. It’s important to work that into the education so doctors realize the broader impact on life,” he says. “As a doctor, you need to understand how important and valuable it is to communicate to your patients what to expect with a new diagnosis.”
Dr. Jennifer Maxwell (IMP Class of 2021) says lessons like these during her experience in the FPP taught her to view the healthcare system differently. “As the First Patient Program pairs students with the patient rather than the healthcare provider, I experienced the healthcare encounters from my patient’s perspective,” she says. “This was invaluable in developing my compassion and empathy for people with chronic illnesses.”
“The program helped me understand the struggles and thoughts patients have when dealing with chronic illnesses and the tough decisions they face,” adds Dr. Andrew Jamroz (IMP Class of 2021). “The FPP showed me that each patient has an important story to tell, even though their stories, experiences, struggles, and accomplishments are not readily apparent during quick office visits.”
When he hears about learning outcomes like theses, Taylor believes his time commitment to the FPP absolutely worthwhile. “The program is one of, if not the most, rewarding experiences I’ve taken on in my life. All the students are so eager. And as a patient, this is chance to change the medical system and the outlook of the next generation of doctors,” he says. “What better way to make use of your lot in life?”
If you have a chronic health condition and, like Taylor, are interested in sharing your medical journey with medical students, the FPP is always looking for more volunteer patients. To learn more, please contact the Patient Program Coordinator at email@example.com.