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“Useful and validated”: Event celebrates connections between patients, caregivers and medical trainees

A recent event recognizes patients and caregivers who volunteer at Stanford Medicine, including those who partner with medical students as part of a class.

Entering Stanford Medicine's Berg Hall, the site of many medical conferences and symposia, felt different on a recent evening -- for one thing, it was full not just of doctors and medical students, but also patients and patients' families and caregivers. A baby gurgled in the back. Multi-generation families gathered in clusters, eating appetizers and wandering the hall. The event, the 1st Annual Celebration of Patient and Family Engaged Medical Education, was held to acknowledge the effort to engage patients, families, and caregivers in medical students' education.

Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, welcomed the 130-or-so attendees by recognizing the important role played by patients.

"The patient is the physician's greatest teacher," Minor said. "This was true for me as a young resident and throughout my clinical career. I still vividly remember the people I had the responsibility and honor of helping during my clinical rotations. These people taught me about resilience, about empathy, and in gifting me their trust, showed me what we could accomplish together."

The event recognized patients and families who have been volunteering in a variety of programs in the School of Medicine, including Walk with Me, a class that pairs medical students with patient partners. It included performances, a panel discussion, a video and a walking tour through "artifacts" that students and their patient partners had created together.

In a recent Department of Medicine article, MD-PhD student Isaac Jackson, who attended the celebration, explained why he had enrolled in the class: "I realized that I was going to be dealing with difficult situations I don't know the first thing about. How do I learn to be empathetic and understanding about something I have no firsthand knowledge about?"

Partnering with a patient was beneficial, Jackson said during the celebration. It even inspired his research: Jackson said that a problem he discussed with a patient ended up spawning a possible lab project to develop a solution.

A moving part of the event was a video piece, which included interviews with caregiver Scott McLaggan and Emeka Nchekwube, MD, the Santa Clara-based neurosurgeon who cared for his wife. McLaggan, who's cared for his wife for 19 years since a brain aneurysm left her with many complications, shared his advice for the medical students: "Always remember that you're caring for a person. Care for them like it's your mother, father, sister or brother." 

He said that Nchekwube had checked on his wife every day for four months, emphasizing the "deep respect" he showed for the patient, her caregivers, other doctors, and all the staff around him. "He told us the realities in calm and reassuring way," McLaggan said. McLaggan also spoke about his participation in the program, stating, "I want to able to share the finer experiences I've had with physicians with the next generation."  

The evening also included the "Walk with Me Chorale," a musical group of doctors and medical students. This was followed by an "Artifact Walk" where student and patient partners displayed artifacts they'd made to remember and celebrate their times spent together as a team. Artifacts included paintings, diagrams of care packages for caregivers, a map of the world with pins to represent journeys taken by a patient following a heart transplant.

The event was best summed up by a patient quote displayed on a poster board: "I am in awe of this program. That Stanford cares enough to provide such a program is a courageous choice. I felt useful and validated at the same time."

Photo of Walk with Me patient Vanessa Deen Johnson and medical student Claire Rhee by Steve Fisch

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