Palliative care and Old Age Psychiatry services had focussed research activity on carer experiences and the learning needs of hospital staff. Published findings suggested that many carers feel marginalised in their interactions with staff and report negative hospital experiences. Attitudes are notoriously hard to change; in general the earlier they can be addressed, the greater the scope to address negative stereotypes and prevent discriminatory behaviours.
To overcome these issues, the team aimed to challenge attitudes among key healthcare professionals towards carers. A multi-agency team which includes carers, social workers as well as medical staff have engaged medical students by means of an innovative education programme.
The goal is to ensure that when the next generation of doctors come to practice medicine, they will bring a positive attitude towards carers, throughout general practice and the hospital specialties they choose to specialise in.
Carers have been integral to the design of this bottom up project which was instigated as a result of two strands of close partnership work with carers from within palliative and mental health services. It particularly supports the agenda within acute services of improving the experience of patients living with dementia. Alongside the professional partnership between hospital and university, the key innovation has been the lead role that carers have played in the design and delivery of this session. This has two impacts: giving them a positive outlet to turn potential frustrations into a force for positive change, as well as seeking to change the attitude of doctors towards carers.
The success of the pilot in 2012 led to agreement of the training becoming a permanent fixture in the medical school programme. A group of carers has been built up to make it sustainable, influencing in the last year around 80 students. The whole process has been carefully evaluated among both the students as well as the carers. Positive outcomes have occurred for both carers and students: Carers: Feedback has been hugely positive.Carers felt the students have been interested and listened to their views, more importantly they described the benefits of knowing that they had influenced the way future doctors will practice. Without having a clear outlet to ventilate their feelings the sessions proved to be a positive way of channelling some of the stresses, joys and frustrations they feel. Students: Normally an area that might not be well evaluated or seen as relevant to the students, it is now one of the most highly scored teaching sessions on the student programme.
The impact that we are most proud of is observing the interaction of students and carers and witnessing the warmth of relationship that builds up when the students lose some of their “professional” attitudes and communicate on a human level. It is arguably the most important lesson for them to take with them in their future careers – for once carer aware, always carer aware.