Learning from the patient experience

Michener students learn in the classroom that patient-centred care is a cornerstone of the health care experience, but five second-year respiratory therapy students recently discovered that some of the most valuable lessons are learned directly from the patient.

Earlier this month, Eliza Ung, Eslaine Xu, Tina Yan, Rasa Siauciunas and Farrah Dharamshi made a road trip from Toronto to London, Ontario for the annual Respiratory Therapy Student Federation (RTSF) Conference at Fanshawe College.

The conference was an opportunity for student respiratory therapists (RTs) to learn about cystic fibrosis from interprofessional health care teams, and to learn about the patient experience from a four-year-old cystic fibrosis patient and her family.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Eliza recalls. “We’re so familiar with being the provider, that we often don’t know what it’s like being a patient.”

L to R, Michener respiratory therapy students Eslaine Xu, Tina Yan, Rasa Siauciunas, Farrah Dharamshi and Eliza Ung
L to R, Michener respiratory therapy students Eslaine Xu, Tina Yan, Rasa Siauciunas, Farrah Dharamshi and Eliza Ung

She says that simply having an understanding of how a patient feels through their day-to-day life gives her the perspective to be a better health care provider.

As second-year students, Eliza explains that her and her classmates’ exposure to patients so far as been minimal. Once they enter their third year, RT students will begin a rotation of clinical placements where they will have the opportunity to directly interact with and treat patients.

In preparation for their clinical year, the conference helped to bridge the gap between principles and concepts learned in the classroom and real-world practices, says Tina. She says that hearing from a family’s experience with cystic fibrosis, a sometimes fatal condition which can affect lung function in children and young adults, provided her with insight into how they manage the disease in their day-to-day lives.

“They helped me to better understand how complex the disease is, and to think beyond simply managing the symptoms by also caring for the patient’s wellbeing.”

Eslaine and Eliza explain that there are a number of exercises people with cystic fibrosis have to partake in multiple times a day in order to manage their symptoms, including breathing exercises and bronchial hygiene techniques.

“They can appear rough,” Eliza says, recalling the bronchial hygiene techniques the family has to perform on their child on a regular basis, often in public.

“I learned about the importance of patience when educating families and trying to remove any stigma that is obtrusive to providing optimal care.”

Eliza, Eslaine and Tina are looking forward to bringing their newfound perspective to practice as they start their clinical year in September 2016.

“I’m looking forward to my upcoming clinical year, and I hope to expand my knowledge of patient care with every experience,” says Tina.