Over the next couple of days, I am spending some time at the University of Melbourne talking with first year medicine students. It is their first week enrolled in this course and during this time, their focus is strongly patient perspectives.

One activity involves listening to a panel of people living with various chronic health conditions. We’re the ones they prepared earlier. And we’re the ones that are going to be an absolute nightmare for them when they finally become grown-up doctors. Why? Well, we’re selected because we are, what some cynically refer to, as professional patients. It’s a badge I’m willing to wear with pride, because knowing about my health condition doesn’t make me a pain in the arse. It makes me empowered.

As preparation for these sessions, we’re asked to think about stories of the good and bad experiences we’ve had with health professionals. We talk about what good communication looks and sounds like and really focus on the health professionals we love dealing with and why. I’m lucky, because I have mostly good stories to tell. I don’t like doctor (or nurse) bashing, so being able to praise the good ones is terrific!

There is no such thing as a poster child for a health condition, so I am always very clear when talking about my experiences with diabetes that I state (several hundred times) that I speak for me and me alone; for my diabetes and my diabetes alone. But even with that caveat, sharing my story provides these students with an inkling of what daily life with diabetes and our interactions with our health professionals is all about.

Sessions like these are really important because they get to hear about living with a chronic condition, but not in a clinic setting where there is noise, people interrupting and one eye constantly on the clock knowing that there are a herd more people outside to get through. They get to ask questions about how we felt about certain situations and why communicating effectively and listening attentively is important. And they get to see us as people, not as a health condition.

This is the third or fourth year I have done this. I feel privileged to be able to tell my story and I hope that at some point in their doctoring lives, the stories shared by the members of the panel will resonate. That as they walk in to see their 25th patient for the day, they remember to breathe, and ask questions that allow the patient to share important information. And that they listen.

When it comes to health care the patient perspective is the most important. How we interpret our appointments and the information we’re given, what we do afterwards and how we feel about living with our condition reflects how we manage our condition. I really applaud the University of Melbourne for including this program in the first week of studies for the med students. Now if only they could find time in the frantic timetable to do it each and every year of their studies.

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