Patient Educator Programme

Patient Educator Programme

In 2009, Assoc Prof Suzanne Donnelly, Associate Dean of Programmes and Educational Innovation in the UCD School of Medicine & Consultant Rheumatologist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, in partnership Ms Grainne O’Leary, Education and Training Officer of Arthritis Ireland (AI), recruited and ‘inducted’ 24 AI members into a new educational initiative, the UCD Patient Educator Programme. A patient educator is a real patient who volunteers to share their expertise and experience of illness and healthcare with medical students.

In the first year of the programme, these patient educators met 100 graduate medical students starting out on their studies.  Since then, we estimate that each of our founding Patient Educators has led teaching sessions with over 200 medical students, over half of whom are now practising doctors.

In 2014, we were delighted to welcome a second cohort of patients recruited via the Irish Society for Crohn’s and Colitis. This has enabled us to expand the programme so that patient educators now lead sessions in each of six key outcomes of our medicine programmes: 

  • History taking
  • Physical examination
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy, compassionate care and an understanding of the patient’s perspective
  • Professionalism
  • Patient-centred practice of medicine

We are also engaged in an educational research programme which investigates the role of patient-educators in the development of these outcomes and the role of patients in assessing empathy and care.

The Patient Educator Programme has enabled us to put patients at the forefront of medical education in UCD. While the patient’s traditional role in educating future doctors is often a passive one, UCD patient educators not only lead teaching sessions, but are also trained and encouraged to feedback to students on their developing skills and attitudes. Students tell us that they view our patient educators as experts and the experience as uniquely important to their development:

Other (educational) interactions lack that moment where you’ve got to win the patient’s trust…..lack those things that are so, so important for every doctor to learn" - Second Year GEM (Graduate Entry Medicine) Student, July 2014

In addition to helping students develop communication skills and professionalism, patient educators also share personal insights which students hugely value:

"I remember talking to a student in between groups, outside the door, and she pinpointed that that was the greatest thing that they were getting from us: insight into living with the disease" - Artritis Ireland Patient Educator, 2014

Future Plans

We are still unlocking the potential that patient educators bring to our programmes. A number of educational innovations are now underway, each accompanied by an evaluation or research project.

  • Involving charities in other chronic disease areas such as respiratory illness (lung disease); cardiovascular illness (heart disease and stroke) and neurological illness.
  • Partnering with charities to share our expertise nationally
  • Encouraging our experienced patient educators to take on roles in assessing students’ developing skills in areas such as compassionate care, communication and empathy
  • Measuring the impact of patient educators on student professionalism, empathy and care.
  • A patient educator peer mentorship programme.

Patient Educator Programme Contacts

Academic Lead

Assoc Prof Suzanne Donnelly 
Consultant Rheumatologist
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital
Associate Dean of Programmes and Educational Innovation,
UCD School of Medicine

Academic Coordinator (School & College Enquiries)

Dr Paula Heaphy
Lecturer in Clinical Education
UCD School of Medicine

Programme Manager (Charity & Patient Liaison & Enquiries)

Dr David Crampton PhD
Clinical Skills Lab Manager
UCD School of Medicine