My route into medical education started nearly 25 years ago. It began with my first admission onto an acute psychiatric ward. I admit that this is an unconventional starting point but over months as an inpatient, I accumulated knowledge and experience about what it means to be in distress and what we mean by mental illness in the context of the UK’s mental health services.
This lived experience forms the basis of my practice as a medical educator today. Over the last 25 years, I have had further periods of inpatient care, further involvement with Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) and further psychological input, all of which has shaped me as a person and as an educator– as well as having a family, working and otherwise getting on with my life.
Through being involved in mental health services, I can understand concepts like ‘stigma’, both external and internal, and ‘restrictive practice’ such as medication regimes where you pile on weight whilst feeling like a zombie. I still remember being ‘trazastoned’ when taking Trazadone. I began to realise that care in the NHS was variable, and my experiences as a recipient of NHS services often depended on which particular person delivered that particular service.
My Journey Today
Currently, I use my decades of experience to work in the NHS in Derbyshire as a Lived Experience Educator. I therefore work with medical students during their psychiatry placement, supporting them to understand what Lived Experience is and the knowledge that comes from it. This is an amazing opportunity to work with tomorrow’s doctors, one that I am passionate about, and one that I hope will reduce the patchiness of services in the future.
I initially started with voluntary involvement with local service user groups. This developed into a period of support work in university and then working as part of a service user led organisation that was commission to provide engagement services to those with mental illness in Derbyshire.
At the University, I was lucky to come into a team with a long established commitment to working collaboratively with people with lived experience to enhance medical students’ learning. When I joined, the Expert Patient Programme in Derby had been running effectively for ten years. This was under the stewardship of Dr Subodh Dave and benefiting from the skills, drive and determination of Nurse Educator, Alexa Sidwell.
A colleague and I were recruited initially on a 12 month fixed term contract to evaluate the teaching offered in Derby. Three and a half years later, we are both established members of the teaching team with substantive contracts. Our roles have evolved over time so that rather than reviewing other people’s teaching, we now teach students ourselves. Something I am immensely proud of!
In 2018, I was the first service user educator to enrol on the Post Graduate Certificate in Medical Education offered by Sheffield University – a qualification that I have now passed! I also work with the Royal College of Psychiatrists on multiple education based projects and am delighted to be involved in conversations at a strategic level about how knowledge derived from Lived Experience can play a part in shaping services and can help future professionals to work in an empathic, person-centred way.
My Take Home Point
Thank you for taking the time to read my musings. If, however, you could take one thing away from this piece, it is this:
Remember that knowledge comes from many places; from lived experience as well as books and lectures. If we truly want future services to be as good as they can be, then does it not make sense to learn from a range of different knowledge types? In doing so we embed that ‘other’ as a resource that shapes and augments the traditional wisdom held by doctors and other professionals working in this field.