Students learning from patients: let's get real in medical education

Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2008 Mar;13(1):89-107. doi: 10.1007/s10459-006-9028-0. Epub 2006 Oct 31.


Medical students must be prepared for working in inter-professional and multi-disciplinary clinical teams centred on a patient's care pathway. While there has been a good deal of rhetoric surrounding patient-centred medical education, there has been little attempt to conceptualise such a practice beyond the level of describing education of communication skills and empathy within a broad 'professionalism' framework. Paradoxically, while aiming to strengthen patient-student interactions, this approach tends to refocus on the role modelling of the physician, and opportunities for potentially deep collaborative working relationships between students and patients are missed. A radical overhaul of conventional doctor-led medical education may be necessary, that also challenges the orthodoxies of individualistic student-centred approaches, leading to an authentic patient-centred model that shifts the locus of learning from the relationship between doctor as educator and student to the relationship between patient and student, with expert doctor as resource. Drawing on contemporary poststructuralist theory of text and identity construction, and on innovative models of work-based learning, the potential quality of relationship between student and patient is articulated in terms of collaborative knowledge production, involving close reading with the patient as text, through dialogue. Here, a medical 'education' displaces traditional forms of medical 'training' that typically involve individual information reproduction. Students may, paradoxically, improve clinical acumen through consideration of silences, gaps, and contradictions in patients as texts, rather than treating communication as transparent. Such paradoxical effects have been systematically occluded or denied in traditional medical education.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Education, Medical / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Male
  • Models, Educational
  • Patient Care Team
  • Patient-Centered Care / methods*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*