The First Patient Program at Queen's School of Medicine


The First Patient Program is a unique aspect of the curriculum here at Queen’s University School of Medicine. It offers undergraduate students the opportunity to experience the healthcare process with a real patient; from the very beginning of their academic journeys.

How It Works

Students are paired with a patient at the beginning of their first semester. The student then accompanies the patient to treatments and appointments over a period of 18-months. Students can expect to:

  • Observe and assist, help to care for patients and buoy their spirits, while developing and honing diagnostic and treatment skills.
  • Become holistically integrated into the lives of patients, in order to build the crucial skills every successful physician needs.
  • Understand that patient-care exists on a continuum, from prevention to diagnostics to treatment to wellness, across different services and specialties.

Beyond Bedside Manner and Towards Empathy

The kind of doctor-to-patient empathy that the First Patient Program helps students develop is important in every medical discipline. Learning to be a good doctor is a personal as well as a professional task, and learning to see patients as individuals is one of the keys to a successful practice. 

Many students often stay in touch with and continue to follow their patients even after the official period of the program is over. “We visited primary care appointments, specialty appointments, and exercise classes, and we often grabbed coffee or lunch afterwards,” said one student involved in the program. “We also have been invited to their home to catch up in between appointments. The program officially runs until the end of second year, but we stayed in touch with them afterwards.”

The First Patient Program allows students to dynamically engage with patients so they can discover this process for themselves (under the supervision of faculty, of course). In many ways, the First Patient Program is a perfect example of Queen’s commitment to an experiential education, to learning by doing and immersion. 

Case Study: Alana, Jon, and Bill

Alana and Jon are students in Undergraduate Medical Education at Queen’s who were paired with a patient, Bill, as part of the program. Alana grew up in Toronto, is studying Physical and Health Education and wants to specialize in Physical Medicine, Rehabilitation or Family Medicine. Jon grew up in Tillsonburg and hopes to become an OB/GYN. 

“While it’s easy to be interested in our medical findings we should not see patients as specimens,” says Alana. “Rather, we need to see and act like they are people first, with a problem to attend to in the right way. We should be interested in them, but not only in what is “wrong” with their body, since what we see as pathological is also their norm. What helps us to excel is by making connections between the small problem at hand and the whole person.”

Bill turned out to be a great pairing for Alana and Jon, not least because his wife Lorna was a constant companion, sharing her own healthcare story, creating a two-in-one situation for the students to respond to. 

“I now better appreciate that even when patients are positive and motivated, their healthcare experiences are complicated and varied,” concludes Alana. “In my first report I commented on the ease of developing a relationship with my patient. While this was the case with Bill, it’s not that way with all patients and professionals. Even for Bill, his relationships vary with his doctors and other providers. Subtle aspects of your personality or behaviours can strengthen a physician-patient relationship or break it down quite quickly. Thus, I have become much more self-aware and open to ask for feedback, to gauge my interactions with patients.”

Jon’s sentiments echo Alana’s. “Above all else, Bill and Lorna have taught me the simplest lesson: to care for the whole person. Again, this is not a novel concept. Medical students hear it from Day One. But it doesn’t quite click until you see it first hand. I feel humbled to have learned so much from this program. I will always remember Bill and Lorna my true ‘first’ patients."

Get In Touch

If you’re an international student interested in joining Queen’s University School of Medicine, reach out, and we’ll help you determine if Queen’s University School of Medicine is right for you. 

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