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Learning from patients – service user involvement in radiotherapy education

Williamson, Keren 2009. Learning from patients – service user involvement in radiotherapy education. Presented at: Practice Learning and Support - Higher Education Academy Special Interest Group, London, UK, 1 April 2009.

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Background One of the key professional standards for therapeutic radiography relates to the integration of theory with practice to ensure the physical and psychosocial well-being of patients with cancer. A recent (National Radiotherapy and Advisory Group (2005) report supports this and presents information from patient advocates stating that patients want improved psychological and emotional support before, during and after radiotherapy treatment. Final year radiotherapy students at Cardiff University were introduced to concepts and theories related to the physical, social and psychological care of patients and tasked with composing and justifying a series of questions which were put to a panel of cancer survivors. Outcomes Student reflections and evaluations reported positive outcomes from the learning activity. All students involved reported that the activity was beneficial to their education in terms of meeting their learning outcomes for this component of the curriculum in relation to acquiring a better understanding of the needs of their patients. Issues raised by cancer survivors were acknowledged, with students stating an intention to change practice as a consequence of this new knowledge. The biggest impact on understanding was seen in relation to the needs of patient carers; ‘I never give the carer a thought, In fact, I don’t think many radiographers do!’ Ethical Issues During discussions, some students became visibly upset. The context of the discussion was difficult for these students since all three had recently suffered bereavement or else had a family member who had received treatment for cancer. A trained counsellor (who is also a registered therapeutic radiographer) was involved in the sessions so immediate support was available for the students affected. Q: Should this type of learning and teaching activity only be undertaken where there is robust access to specialised emotional support services or is access to the usual HEI student support services adequate? Q: Although students could have chosen not to participate, should specific consent (over and above the usual consent for involvement in teaching activities) to this type of participation have been considered? The members of the panel were volunteers from a local breast cancer support group and were long term survivors, having completed active treatment for their breast cancer more than 5 years previously. This prompted feedback from students that the panel’s views may be outdated, making an assumption that service provision had improved. This issue had, however been discussed with the panel who acknowledged the point but suggested that for individuals who had more recent experience of cancer treatment, the issues may still be ‘raw’ and could cause distress. Q: Is it ethical to ask cancer survivors with fewer years’ post-treatment experience in order to ensure that issues are seen as relevant and topical by students or should the discussion include addressing the assumption that services have improved for cancer patients? Conclusion Higher education institutions are obliged to ensure that graduate therapeutic radiographers are equipped with the skills for autonomous practice, probity and empathy with the psychosocial and emotional needs of the cancer patient. This example illustrates how through the engagement of service users in the academic learning environment, strategies can be developed to provide the future cancer workforce with the skills required for the development of professional practice and improvement of service provision. However, with learning and teaching around such an emotive subject area, the availability for support for students and cancer survivors involved must be carefully considered.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Healthcare Sciences
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
R Medicine > RM Therapeutics. Pharmacology
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:59

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