Patients as educators: the challenges and benefits of sharing experiences with students

Med Educ. 2012 Oct;46(10):992-1000. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2012.04356.x.


Context: Despite movement towards active patient involvement in the education of health professionals, explorations of the experiences of patient-educators beyond descriptive research are limited.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to identify the positive and negative factors that contributed to the experiences of patient-educators in a health mentors programme for health professional students at a Canadian university.

Methods: Semi-structured focus group discussions and individual interviews were used to elicit the experiences of 30 patient-educators with chronic conditions or disabilities, of the 151 involved in the programme. Thematic analysis was used to identify key themes in the participants' experiences.

Results: Study participants spoke of the potential challenges and benefits of sharing their experiences. The main challenge involved in sharing their experiences was potential vulnerability should students not appreciate what was shared. The main benefits were personal learning and making valued contributions. Two factors influenced the participants' sense of whether the potential benefits outweighed the challenges of personal sharing in the programme: monitoring disclosure, and perceived student learning. Participants used the strategy of monitoring their disclosure to limit how much personal information they shared with students. The benefits of participating in the programme outweighed the potential challenges when students were seen to embrace the intended messages of the patient-educators.

Conclusions: The results of this study provide a conceptual framework that can be used to better prepare patient-educators and students for more reciprocal learning interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Canada
  • Disclosure
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation / methods
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching / methods
  • Young Adult