The Privilege of Working with Medical Students - a World Patient Safety Day Blog by Eddie McGill

The Privilege of Working with Medical Students - a World Patient Safety Day Blog by Eddie McGill

This year's theme for the World Health Organization's World Patient Safety Day (17 September) is Engaging Patients For Patient Safety, in recognition of the crucial role patients, families and caregivers play in the safety of health care. Active patient involvement, both in their own personal care as well as at a strategic organisational level, is vital to help improve healthcare provision, and the RCSEd is delighted to support this year's WPSD theme. 

The RCSEd Patient Safety Group have produced a number of blogs as part of a campaign to mark World Patient Safety Day. In this blog, Lay Member of the RCSEd Patient Safety Committee Eddie McGill covers the privilege of working with medical students.

I, along with around 350 others, have been volunteering with the Edinburgh Patient Partnership Supporting Assessment and Teaching (EPPSAT) service for a few years now. They need patients like me who have a pre-existing chronic medical condition to contribute to undergraduate and postgraduate clinical examinations and teaching.

EPPSAT was established in 2006 and is supported by the University of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

The EPPSAT service is delivered by a full-time coordinator and a senior nurse who recruits patients and ensures their wellbeing is supported when they assist in examinations and teaching. We get a taxi door to door and as much tea and coffee as required. It’s a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and I am helping medical students become excellent doctors.

At each session, I will see four groups of fourth year students who are doing their rheumatology module. In each group there are approximately six students. Each group is accompanied by a rheumatologist. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. Someone in the group is asked to take my medical history without me telling them what the final diagnosis is, and the group must diagnose what my condition is. Once they have reached the correct diagnosis, they are then asked what the treatment is for Ankylosing Spondylitis. I then explain what treatment I am on and how Ankylosing Spondylitis affects my daily life.

I have had Ankylosing Spondylitis since I was 23, but didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 46. The delay in diagnosis is normal, although today it’s down to around 8 years. I feel strongly that GPs need to be fully up to speed with spotting the symptoms early and diagnosing Ankylosing Spondylitis so that treatment can be started and symptoms managed.   

The first GP I saw didn’t examine me, but said that I was suffering from myalgia. Then a few years later, I moved to a different part of the city and moved to a different GP practice. My new GP diagnosed osteoarthritis, and she was partly right because both my hips were fairly worn. But the underlying issues were Ankylosing Spondylitis, and the symptoms were once again missed. It was after my second hip replacement at the age of 46 that the Surgeon referred me to see a rheumatologist. Within 20 minutes, this gentleman had diagnosed Ankylosing Spondylitis and gave me an information booklet explaining what it was. It was like reading my life story.

I attend weekly physiotherapy sessions at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. These are part of the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society who have groups all over the UK. The sessions are run by qualified physiotherapists and include weekly hydrotherapy and gym sessions. The exercises are a crucial part of slowing down the condition. I have also found it invaluable to talk with other people who are experiencing the same physical challenges as me. The chat and banter are as therapeutic as the actual exercises.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is hereditary, and when my 42-year-old daughter, Rachel, went to her GP a few years ago with similar symptoms that I have had most of my adult life and she explained that her dad had Ankylosing Spondylitis, the GP completely dismissed what she was saying. She had done her research and mentioned the blood test for the HLA-B27 Gene. He said, “you don’t want to know that”.  

After a year of further struggles, she went privately to a physiotherapist and when she told him her symptoms and mentioned that I had Ankylosing Spondylitis, the Physiotherapist told her to go back to the GP Surgery and insist on the blood test. 

She then saw a different GP at the practice, and this GP had no hesitation in doing the blood test which came back positive. Like me, she was relieved to finally have an answer to what was going on and was able to get started on proper treatment.

When I speak to the students, I always tell them about my daughter’s experience, and I encourage them that if any of them become GPs and a patient comes to them with symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis that they remember Rachel and investigate the symptoms thoroughly. Ankylosing Spondylitis cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be treated and its progress slowed down with regular exercise. Spotting it early can literally transform someone’s life.

I am a Lay Member of the RCSEd Patient Safety Committee. I bring personal knowledge and experience gained as a surgical patient over many years and am always happy to share my experiences with the Committee from a patient perspective.  

I do sessions with Edinburgh Patient Partnership Supporting Assessment & Teaching. I work with students who are doing their Rheumatology Module and enjoy the experience to help train and educate the Doctors of tomorrow.   

For the last five years I have been a member of the Arthritis & Musculoskeletal Cross-Party Group at the Scottish Parliament. The purpose of the group is to seek to raise the awareness of ongoing issues affecting patients with Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions throughout Scotland.

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