A pioneering initiative at the University of Sheffield is paving the way to ensure all patients' voices are heard.
The Medical School's innovative learning programme is ensuring the doctors of tomorrow complete their studies with not only the required medical skills and knowledge but exemplary compassion and care for patients – something which cannot be learnt in a lecture theatre or from text books.
Patients, at times of great stress and anxiety, have always been generous in helping students learn. However, as the pressure on the NHS has increased over the last few years, opportunities for students to spend time with patients and listen and learn from them have diminished.
The innovative Patients As Educators (PAE) scheme is the largest in Europe, giving medics the opportunity to carry out simulated ward rounds and then listen and learn to patient feedback without any time constraints. This allows the voice of patients to be heard as regards to what they wish for from their care, and such direct feedback from patients into student learning is a powerful catalyst for improving clinical services.
The PAE programme is hosted at the University’s Clinical Skills Centre, based at Samuel Fox House at the Northern General Hospital, which recently underwent a revolutionary £1.5 million transformation allowing students to put their medical knowledge to the test with real patients in simulated wards, an operating theatre, a simulated home environment and a resuscitation room.
The facilities not only allow students to practise their skills in a safe controlled environment but state-of-the-art recording equipment and a film studio means they can record examinations and assessments and learn from their mistakes. Hi-tech webcams mean that the footage can be shown in real time in lecture theatres on the main campus just across the city or at partner institutes thousands of miles across the world.
The widespread success and reputation of the Clinical Skills Centre facilities and the PAE programme has helped to boast applications to the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health by 168 per cent compared to 2012 – bucking the national trend.
Professor Nigel Bax, Professor of Medical Education and Head of the Medical School, said: "The webcam system, the first of its kind for medical students in the UK, allows students to be supported in their learning, receiving instant feedback on their consultation and clinical skills work with the Patients As Educators which will be of great benefit when they care for patients in the future.
"The focus of the work of the centre is to ensure that students from all healthcare professions trained at the University of Sheffield are fully prepared to undertake the duties and responsibilities of their professions having learned together and with patients in a collaborative manner. "
He added: "The programme is an invaluable transitional step for students to hone their skills in a wide range of clinical situations in a simulated environment. It places patients at the centre of learning. Patients contribute to the development and delivery of our undergraduate courses as well as providing feedback directly to students on their performance and behaviours.”
The PAE scheme involves more than 800 volunteer patients from across South Yorkshire who dedicate their time to help students develop their clinical skills and, importantly, the human side of being a doctor.
Fourth year medical student Tom Cash, 22, said the experience gained through working with PAE at the new Clinical Skills Centre is invaluable.
"Patients, especially those who have long term illnesses, are experts in their own conditions so they are very aware of what they need," said Tom.
"The state-of-the-art simulation wards mean that we can get the chance use our new skills and knowledge in a controlled and safe environment which inevitably helps you to grow in confidence.
He added: "More than 80 per cent of the diagnosis procedure is based on listening to the patient so you really must have excellent communication skills. This is something you can only learn by working with real patients and picking up various techniques.
"The Clinical Skills Centre is becoming more and more well-known with prospective medical students so the new refurbishment means that we now have all of the equipment and facilities to enhance the unique learning process when one is with a patient even further."
Fifth year medical student Emma Hubbard, 23, said: "The Clinical Skills Centre helps you to hone your skills and get instant feedback from the people that really matter – the patients.
"While working with patients I have learnt how important it is to introduce yourself properly and ensure that you are addressing the patient in the correct way – finding out whether they prefer to be Mrs Smith for example or Elizabeth. These things may seem very small but they are very important to the patients – especially because they are likely to be worried or nervous about being in a hospital environment."
She added: "Putting yourself in a lifelike clinical setting also means that you quickly pick up useful techniques and learn how to examine people with dignity and make them feel as comfortable as possible.
"This really is a flagship scheme which will help educate doctors of the future in the best possible way."
Aidan Widdowson, 52, from Sheffield was one of the first volunteers to join the PAE programme 13 years ago.
"I spent a year in hospital, including time on a life support machine, following a bad bike accident. When I heard about the PAE programme I was eager to take part because I really wanted to give something back for all of the wonderful care I had received.
"I am able to help the students who are learning about neurological conditions and brain injuries.
"The medical staff that treated me saved my life so it feels really rewarding to know I am effectively helping the doctors and nurses of tomorrow who will no doubt go on to save many lives in their careers."
The newly refurbished Clinical Skills Centre was opened in March by the Patients As Educators. The project is part of a multi-million pound investment at the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health which is giving students the best possible foundations for their future careers.
More than 2,500 students study within the Faculty each year on over 40 different courses. The University of Sheffield gives budding healthcare professionals the very best start to their careers and the opportunity to learn in a unique working environment.
Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: "As a result of this work, our facilities now truly are world-class and it is not an exaggeration to say that the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health now has the highest quality facilities of any university in the UK.
"We have also seen a dramatic increase in applications to study Medicine at Sheffield which are very much linked to the fact that we now have a quality environment which matches the excellent work which is carried out to create the skilled, caring doctors and health professionals who have such an important role to play
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