Walk With Me: A Year-End Celebration

Painting by medical student Michelle Zhang

On June 4, 2018, the Walk With Me course ended its first year with an emotional, thoughtful celebration of both what the class meant and what it could be. The Walk With Me course, subtitled “A Patient-Centered Exploration of Health and the Health Care System,” is part of an initiative within the SHIELD program (Stanford Healthcare Innovations and Experiential Learning Directive), meant to provide novel solutions to questions about patient care.

Medical students enrolled in the Walk With Me course for one to three quarters.  The students were paired with a patient partner, either a patient, a caregiver, or both, and during the process of the course, the student/partner pair explored the health care system.  Students also attended monthly workshops centered around a health systems science topic. 

The goal of the course, according to SHIELD director Erika Schillinger, MD, vice chief for education in the division of Primary Care and population health, was to “stretch our concept of patient-engaged education” and “prepare students to become compassionate caregivers.” 

The celebration itself was an interesting event: well-attended on a bright summer evening, with families and patients and caregivers mingling with medical students, some still wearing white coats, and other Stanford affiliates.  Schillinger began the evening with a powerful anecdote about a time early in her medical career when she overheard a group of doctors joking about a patient, referring to the “metastatic liver in bed 8.”  In that moment, Schillinger felt that “biomedicine had crowded out their humanity.”

The man in question heard these jokes, and felt “neutralized.” He was Schillinger's father.

Undergraduates Hannah Levy and Mady Weiss performing "Being With"

This motivated her to “invigorate medical education,” eventually leading to the Walk With Me course.  As Schillinger pointed out, the course goes even further than “patient-centered” curriculum, because the patients are actively involved at every stage of the class.  They aren’t just the end user; they’re the designer.

This moving introduction was followed by undergraduates Hannah Levy and Mady Weiss, who performed an interdisciplinary modern dance piece called “Being With: An Expression of Empathy in the Patient-Provider Relationship.” Levy and Weiss danced to music interspersed with interviews they’d collected with patients, caregivers, and doctors, all discussing empathy.

Next was the Student and Patient Partner Panel, which showcased two sets of partnerships from the course: medical student Sandrene Cassells and patient Bev Quinby, and medical student Bright Zhou and patient Jody Yarborough.

The panel was moving and thoughtful.  Both students expressed their surprise that their relationships with their patient partners grew so deep so quickly.  “We’ve become great friends,” Bev Quinby said about Cassells, as Cassells teared up.  “She spent every moment getting to know me as a patient.”

Poster by medical student Esther Son

Quinby added that she wished every doctor and student could get to know a patient on this level.  Cassells agreed, and added, “I will probably see her face in every patient I treat.”

Both patients in the patient pairs also agreed that this program gave them hope for the future; as Quinby said, “It’s wonderful as a patient to feel heard.” The audience nodded appreciatively.

This was followed by the appreciation section of the evening, when recognitions of staff, patients, students, and faculty were handed out, and some faculty read student reflections on the program. 

And then there was an unusual poster session, when students and patient partners displayed their course projects.  The projects were a mix of different media and approaches: picture collages of patients’ lives, line drawings, a video of a patient and her student partner baking, a poster board covered in iridescent blue, purple, and turquoise butterflies, a painting, nature photographs, and even a quilt.  Students and patient partners discussed the significance of these projects, which blended science with art. 

The evening was a celebration of a course, but it felt much more like a graduation party than anything else: a lot of grateful people at the end of a collaboration, enjoying each other’s company and absorbing all that they’d learned.