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Med Educ. 1999 Sep;33(9):688-94.

Patients as teachers: a qualitative study of patients' views on their role in a community-based undergraduate project.

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  • 1Department of Primary Health Care, School of Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.



Patients have been used in clinical medical education for many years with, traditionally, a relatively passive role. Following the General Medical Council recommendations for curricular change and the development of more community-based teaching, 'ordinary patients' in the community are increasingly being partnered with undergraduate students for particular projects. Very little research has been undertaken on patients' perceptions of this role.


Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 20 people to explore the views of patients taking part in a community-based undergraduate medical student project (the 'patient study') at Newcastle Medical School about their role as teachers of medical students, what they felt they had gained from participating, any problems or concerns and suggestions for change or improvement.


Newcastle Medical School, UK.


Second-year medical students.


Two major themes emerged. First, patients saw themselves in active roles as teachers: as experts in their medical condition; as exemplars of their condition; and as facilitators of the development of students' professional skills and attitudes. Secondly, patients felt they had benefited from participation, through talking about their problems; learning more about themselves; the satisfaction of helping; and from receiving gifts. In addition, a number of other issues were identified including interpersonal dynamics, gender and ethnic differences, inadequate briefing of participants and whether such community-based patient involvement might, in some situations, be felt to be exploitative.


The study has shown that patients see themselves clearly as having specific contributions to make to medical students' education and training. This has implications for the further development of community-based teaching.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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