Background Systemic sclerosis (SSc, often referred to as scleroderma) is a rare connective tissue disease affecting many different organs and systems of the body. Symptoms, disease course and outcome vary enormously between patients.
Objectives 4th year, (1st clinical)medical students at the Royal Free Hospital, London, UK receive rheumatic disease training over a 6 week period. One of these lectures is on Raynaud's phenomenon and SSc. Each group consists of an average of 15 students. We were interested if patient participation in the lecture would be beneficial to the better understanding of the diseases by the medical students and will increase interest into these complex conditions.
Methods An anonymous questionnaire consisting of 7 items was given to the medical students to fill out after the completion of the lecture. This covered questions regarding the overall content, presentation and quality of the lectures; specific questions regarding the participation of a patient and two “control questions” covering information presented in the lecture, to test if students understood and remembered key messages regarding disease classification and autoantibody associations.
Results Over three consecutive lectures 36 students filled out a questionnaire. Out of the 24 students who had been to a lecture with a patient before, 7 had been to such a lecture just once and 15 had been to more than one, although the majority had been to only 2 lectures with a patient present (2 didn't specify how many lectures with patient participation they have attended).
To the question “Can you see any benefit in having a patient to discuss their experience?”, all 36 students answered that it was beneficial to have a patient in a lecture. Students felt that seeing symptoms and signs of the disease helped them to remember the information presented in the lecture. In addition they found it very useful to hear a personal patient perspective on living with scleroderma and coping with the realities of living with a chronic disabling disease.
We also asked if the students have any reservations about having a patient present at the lecture. Of the 36, only 9 students expressed concerns. All were related to their reluctance to discuss disease related problems that maybe either be embarrassing or disturbing for the patient, in particular, mortality and prognosis.
After reviewing the first set of questionnaires we made a point of informing the students at the beginning of each lecture that they were talking to an experienced patient who understood and was happy to discuss any aspects of the disease. As a result students were more comfortable and happier to ask questions.
Conclusions Overall patient participation during the Systemic Sclerosis and Raynaud's phenomenon lecture was seen as a useful addition to the lecture. Students described benefits such as helping them to remember clinical signs and symptoms, giving them the opportunity to ask questions, gain a perspective of the life experience of someone living with SSc.
It is important to stress that the participating patient is experienced in all aspects of the disease including morbidity, mortality and differing prognosis. This should be made clear at the beginning of the lecture so students feel more comfortable discussing all relevant complexities of the disease in the presence of a patient.
Acknowledgements Thanks to Svetlana Nihtyanova who helped with all aspects of this abstract.
Disclosure of Interest None declared