GP pushing for greater understanding of vulnerable patients among medical students

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One of our GPs is on a mission to ensure the treatment of vulnerable patients is a key part of the curriculum being delivered in medical schools. 

Dr Andy Ward works part time at our organisation and is also an Associate Professor in Medical Education and Honorary Senior Academic GP at the University of Leicester.

Andy has always taken an interest in health inequalities, but it was an encounter in the first practice he worked for which was to shape the direction of his career.

Andy said: “I saw a patient who had never told anyone she was using heroin. I hadn’t had any relevant training and I didn’t know how to help her at that point. It prompted me to go out and get the training I needed, which led to the practice setting up a specialist service to help those types of patients. We found a surprising number of patients needed that help.”

Fast-forward 20 years and through his role at the university, Andy is now working with colleagues at other medical schools to ensure trainee doctors are equipped with the skills to helps patients like the ones supported by The Assist and Inclusion practices. 

Part of that includes improving medical students’ access to organisations such as ours.

Andy said: “We’re working with other medical schools to try to push the treatment of patients like ours into the mainstream curriculum, along with more empathy. One of the best ways to develop empathy is for trainees to meet patients so they can see what life is like for them.”

“The patients we see at Inclusion are really interesting but can get pigeon-holed – their whole identity being about their homelessness. But if you’re curious and you start a conversation, they’ve often had really interesting lives. And our patients are not used to people taking an interest when they interact with health services.”

Andy went on to say: “I think the patients we look after often get left out by mainstream healthcare services. I also think that people don’t understand how bad things are for people experiencing homelessness or seeking asylum, and that the health outcomes are so much worse than the general population. It’s about enabling trainee doctors to find that out, and help these patients get a better deal across the NHS.” 

Andy joined our organisation after visiting three years ago to find out more about the treatment of homeless people, after the practice he was working for was setting up a support service for local rough sleepers.

What he saw impressed him and when a vacancy came up a year later, Andy applied.

He said: “It’s a great place to work and lots of students are interested in visiting – it’s a popular placement. I’ve even had a few students and trainees contact me about coming and sitting in on my clinics in their own time.”
Andy is also on the management team for the charity Project LIGHT, based at Leicester Medical School, which gives medical students the opportunity to provide health promotion to Leicester’s homeless population. He works four days a week at the medical school, is the Education Lead at the Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare and is a presenter for NB Medical Education, which delivers educational webinars for primary care.

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