Many cancer patients report feeling that something is missing in their medical care – a focus on them as whole people, with real hopes, fears and lives to manage. For most patients, a diagnosis of cancer is only a small part of the challenges faced as they undergo treatment. Their lives still go on and their responsibilities to family and work remain the same.
I’ve written several posts about my experiences as a patient educator with the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project. Today, I’d like to highlight the organization and the work it does to change the way medicine is practiced so the medical team treats the person, and not just the cancer.
Pathways offers patient panels and one-on-one interviews for medical and nursing students and medical residents to learn first-hand what it is like to have cancer. All of the programs are provided free-of-charge to the healthcare institutions, through a grant currently provided by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
The primary goals of the Women’s Cancer Teaching project are:
- to foster patient-centered, humanistic care by the healthcare system, particularly with respect to the treatment of patients with cancer;
- to enhance the quality of relationships between the healthcare professional and the patient;
- to improve healthcare outcomes and treatment compliance; and
- to provide increased support for women with cancer.
Most medical schools and healthcare institutions do not have a program in which students and medical professionals get the opportunity to meet with and interview real cancer survivors. Pathways fills this gap and offers residents training programs an opportunity to satisfy requirements for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Students and medical professionals are able to simply ask questions and discuss personal issues with the patient educators in an intimate setting, without being evaluated on their ability to provide diagnostic assessments and treatment interviews.
Patient educators say the opportunity to speak directly and honestly with members of the healthcare system enhances their healing and allows them to use this difficult experience as a way to give back. At the same time, the students and medical professionals value the opportunity to meet with cancer survivors. They are moved by the experience and often say they will carry the experience with them throughout their schooling and practice. As one nursing student noted, “Having a survivor speak from experience is better than any book or lecture.”
According to Dr. Jill Gora, Assistant Director of the Somerset Family Practice Residency Program, “Every panel of patient educators challenges our residents to think about those qualities that make a good physician. Medical knowledge alone is not enough. It is only by seeing a patient as a whole person, that they are able to transcend the disease-based model of medical care, and become truly patient-centered, compassionate caregivers.”
Isn’t this the kind of treatment we all want and deserve? Have you been lucky enough to get medical treatment which centers on your whole person, rather than focusing only on the cancer?
Survival > Existence,
Image courtesy of JULIE