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Med Educ. 2018 Jan 19. doi: 10.1111/medu.13501. [Epub ahead of print]

'Can the patient speak?': postcolonialism and patient involvement in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

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Wilson Centre for Research in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Maple Leaf Medical Clinic, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Patients are increasingly being engaged in providing feedback and consultation to health care institutions, and in the training of health care professionals. Such involvement has the potential to disrupt traditional doctor-patient power dynamics in significant ways that have not been theorised in the medical literature. Critical theories can help us understand how power flows when patients are engaged in the training of medical students.


This paper applies postcolonial theory to the involvement of patients in the development and delivery of medical education. First, I review and summarise the literature around patient involvement in medical education. Subsequently, I highlight how postcolonial frameworks have been applied to medical education more broadly, extrapolating from the literature to apply a postcolonial lens to the area of patient engagement in medical education.


Concepts from postcolonial theory can help medical educators think differently about how patients can be engaged in the medical education project in ways that are meaningful and non-tokenistic. Specifically, the positioning of the patient as 'subaltern' can provide channels of resistance against traditional power asymmetries. This has curricular and methodological implications for medical education research in the area of patient engagement.

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