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From patient to teacher: Meet four people who offer a personal touch to teaching

December 10, 2019

Patients and families have at least one credential that cannot be taught, yet is vital to the teaching of peers and health providers: their lived experience. At Sunnybrook, patients and families help design patient education tools, they give feedback to our students and residents, and they offer guidance to others going through a similar experience. Their involvement helps Sunnybrook improve the patient and family experience.

Here are four of Sunnybrook’s patient teachers, with insight into why they’ve taken on the role:

Paul’s journey through Ontario’s health care system started in 2008 when he contracted necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease). Following a two-month stay in acute care, Paul spent another month at St. John’s Rehab. He says his journey motivated him to give back to the institutions and people who both saved and restored his life.

Today, Paul is a volunteer patient advisor who facilitates group education sessions for clinicians and students about providing person-centred care.

“My experience makes [person-centred care] real for the people I teach,” says Paul. “At the same time, I can reinforce to them the positive difference they are all making in the lives of their patients.”

Ophelia gave birth to her son 15 weeks early. He weighed 780 grams when he was born and stayed at Sunnybrook for almost four months while he battled infections and pneumonia. Now, Ophelia’s journey in the NICU inspires hope in other families.

As a breastfeeding peer counsellor at Sunnybrook, Ophelia spends her days chatting with women about their challenges and encouraging them to pump breast milk. She organizes weekly mom-to-mom lunches and walks, telling other moms about Emmanuel – now a healthy, energetic 8-year-old.

“When they see or hear about my son and I tell them my story, they feel like their child will be okay too,” says Ophelia.

Charlotte is a retired registered nurse and a three-time cancer survivor, now living with lymphedema. She has been involved as a patient advocate in multiple Canada-wide health committees, helping to elevate care and funding for people living with life-altering illness. At Sunnybrook, she offers advice to patients and staff through education sessions about lymphedema.

“There are some things in life that I can do, and others that I cannot,” says Charlotte. “What I can do is share my experience with other people. I can tell them how it feels. And I can let them know what can be done about it.”

Peter admits he has an insatiable desire to help people. As one of his many volunteer roles, he assists the Holland Centre in conducting hip education classes for patients facing total hip replacement. Having an artificial hip himself, his work with future patients helps take the mystery out of hip surgery. “I walk people through what’s going to happen the day of the surgery and what to expect afterwards,” says Peter. “Sharing my experience helps them understand they are not alone.”

To learn more about Sunnybrook’s patient as educator initiatives or to become involved, please contact Tamara Harth.