Mary Paquin didn’t know who Beth Anne Sutton was when she answered her call a year ago. But within a few minutes, Paquin had agreed to help redefine the future practice of medicine—whether she knew it or not.
The courtesy of personality
Students of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and the School of Nursing are redefining the future practice of medicine through a home visiting program dubbed Partners in Care.
The program aims to strengthen communication skills by moving the educational environment to the home of local adults who are 65 years of age and older.
In its first year last fall, the School of Medicine introduced a course for building such skills called The Art and Practice of Medicine under the direction of Doctor Nelia Afonso. Partners in Care is embedded in the course’s curriculum and 75 medical students, 75 nursing students along with 75 elderly community volunteers will participate this year.
“The course incorporates professionalism and ethical practice, interpersonal and team communication skills, fundamentals of patient safety, privacy and functioning in a team setting,” Beth Anne Sutton, course and program coordinator said.
A main goal is to build inter professional skills by bringing medical and nursing students together to learn effective communication in the workplace to improve patient care.
“There is more research showing how nurses and physicians are educated in silos and they never have a chance to collaborate in their education,” she said. “Yet we are expecting them to graduate from their individual programs and work together—That is very difficult to do when you haven’t given them any advice or collaboration within their school.”
A large part of the program also focuses on developing physical examination skills and learning to humanize each patient through basic interaction and relationship building.
“It’s huge in medical education now,” Sutton said. “And it needs to be.”
Partners in Care allows students to put these modalities in action. Throughout the semester, each first-year medical student is paired with a second-year nursing student to visit a local elderly volunteer.
During each of the three visits, students ask questions about the volunteer’s health and activities, conduct routine exams such as blood pressure or the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (testing memory and concentration through drawings and other tactics), as well as check their home for potential health hazards and more.
When students visit someone’s home, “it’s intimate—there are photos on the wall, pets running around—You see them living in an environment where a real person lives,” Sutton said. “What we are hoping students will take from this experience is that everyone who comes to see them has a home. It really makes the person human rather than ‘Patient X’.”
Mary Paquin of Birmingham was happy to become a volunteer last year and continues to be an enthusiastic practice patient for the program this year.
“We just didn’t want to let them go,” Paquin said of her two assigned students last year. “It was a wonderful experience on both sides.”
She denotes the importance of honing personality and interactive skills in medical education as she has had several impersonal visits to the doctor’s office.
“We’ve come through the era that [they’re] trying to correct,” Doug Paquin, Mary’s husband said. “Where doctors really were aloof, unreachable and untouchable,” Mary said. “So I think this is a wonderful program.”
As students, they are not medically treating these volunteers, but rather learning to interact with an older patient demographic.
“[Students] are used to seeing their grandparents,” Paquin said, “But they’re not around a community of people who are older than 65.”
Part of this experience exposes the future physicians and nurses to the varied lifestyles of the elderly population, she said.
“Some have memory problems and then some are still working,” Paquin said, “Some people are old at 28 but then there are young people at 90.”
After visits, students collaborate and discuss their experiences as a team as “No one student learns it all,” Sutton said.
Most medical schools have adopted similar programs and she hopes Partners in Care will become part of the community in the next five years.
The program recruits former Beaumont patients who meet the age requirement but are actively searching for volunteers.
For more information about Partners in Care or if you know someone who would like to volunteer, please contact Beth Anne Sutton through email: Sutton@oakland.edu or give her a call at 248-964-5198.