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Patients as Teachers

Patients as Teachers

Receiving a serious diagnosis for yourself or a loved one can feel like a punch in the gut. Strong emotions take over, clouding even the clearest-thinking minds. Now a program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, funded by a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, helps ease some of that burden.

The Patient Support Corps (PSC) selects and trains medical students from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and undergraduates from Dartmouth College to support patients at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. PSC student volunteers use a structured coaching process to help patients develop their own question lists before an appointment. PSC volunteers also take notes and capture an audio recording for the patient during the appointment.

"What's so different about this program is that it really forces you as the student volunteer to absolutely focus on the patient's concerns . . . to not insert what you think is best into the conversation," says Asha Clarke, a member of the Geisel Class of '16 and PSC volunteer who has assisted several patients so far. "It's such a different skill, and it's so valuable to me as I train to become a physician."

Patients find the program valuable too. Christine Giddings, a breast cancer survivor, was considering breast reconstruction surgery when she was offered the free service.

"It was great having Asha there because it meant somebody was taking notes, somebody was recording, and I could totally focus on the doctor," says Giddings. "Just that one piece alone took a tremendous load off me."

So far the PSC has served more than 50 patients, mostly from the breast reconstruction service. With the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations grant, the program will now have the resources to hire a coordinator, train more student volunteers, expand into other clinical areas, and help launch similar programs at other medical centers. That’s great news for patients like Christine Giddings—and for aspiring, young doctors.

Read the full story in the Winter 2014 issue of Imagine.


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