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Patient engagement needs to start in the classroom

It’s Time to Train Medical Students in Patient Engagement

I recently had the opportunity to present at a hospital’s grand rounds on the topic of patient engagement and how to include patient voices in a meaningful way in healthcare. We talked about looking for opportunities to share the patient experience in an informal way — at shift change, sharing a patient story at the start of formal meetings, and provide patient engagement training to medical students and residents.

It was this last concept, of introducing patient engagement when students first begin working at the hospital, that struck a cord. And was an idea they were embarrassed to say they hadn’t previously used (or thought of).

Think about it. If we want to transform healthcare to be truly patient and family focused, we need to be talking about patient engagement not only in universities but also as part of the on-boarding process at the hospital.

But this can’t just be a short power point presentation by a staff member, sandwiched between evacuation procedures and confidentiality requirements. It needs to be a half-day workshop conducted by a patient advocate.

Now I’m not trying to drum up more training business (although I am passionate about teaching the importance of and techniques to include patient engagement). Rather, as a patient advocate, my training is done from the patient’s perspective versus a staff member’s perspective.

It is this change of perspectives that is crucial. Patient advocate trainers do not work for one particular healthcare organization, therefore we are not entrenched in the corporate culture. Rather we are a fresh voice, bringing not only the patient’s point of view but also best practices of patient engagement from other organizations.

For those of you rolling your eyes at a half-day workshop, thinking that’s too long, it’s not. Patients are the reason you are in healthcare. Nothing is more important than your patients.

If you are sincere about having a patient and family centred organization, then you need to educate students on not only why but HOW this is being lived every day. Help them understand how they can include patient engagement as a student, with the hopes they will carry these learnings with them into their medical practice.

I’m not just talking about doctors. Nurses, respiratory therapists, healthcare aids…everyone working in healthcare needs to play a role in patient advocacy and engagement. After all, it is the frontline staff who hear and see many of the patient stories.

It’s not the huge changes that will transform your organization into truly providing patient and family centred care. It’s the small changes that accumulate over time, which will shift your culture. And who better to start with than the people entering your organization with fresh eyes?

Now a warning. You can’t just train the students and expect that’s that. You still need to make the small changes with your staff, and provide your leaders with patient engagement training (which hopefully will filter down to your staff).

Begin with having a patient story told at the start of every formal meeting. Assign someone to tell the story. And if possible, relate it to the focus areas of your hospital — fall prevention, transition of care or any other item on your agenda. This is a small, by important way, of starting meetings with the patient voice being heard, and reminds everyone what healthcare is all about.

Now back to the students. Check in with them throughout their term. How are they providing patient and family centred care? What does it mean to them? What have they seen work well? Where are areas of improvement?

Take advantage of having these eager and fresh minds in your organization. Tap into their insights and look for common trends. They will likely uncover some easy changes that can make a big difference.

Imagine if every hospital took this approach. In under 10 years, true patient and family centred care would be the norm, not the exception.

If you want to learn more about patient advocacy visit

Writer, communications professional, speaker and patient advocate. Visit for free communications tools to help share your stories.

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