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  • Previously Featured Volunteer Patients

    For Hugh and Noreen Green, being volunteer patients in the Island Medical Program has become part of their current lifestyle. Both are retired teachers – Noreen was a college instructor and Hugh was a high school teacher - and look at this as a great opportunity to maintain contact with students and "teach", albeit in a slightly different capacity.


    Hugh and Noreen have lived in Victoria for 10 years.  Both are living with chronic medical conditions.  Hugh has heart difficulties, having gone through open heart surgery about 7 years ago.  For the past 20 years, Noreen has been suffering from a chronic condition that is painful and affects her mobility.  They have a wealth of knowledge about the day-to-day issues of living with serious health issues, making them ideal volunteer patients. 

    The Greens have been volunteer patients with the IMP since March 2009.  Since that time, both have participated in clinical skills sessions at the Royal Jubilee Hospital with first and second year medical students.  Hugh has attended a total of 51 clinical skills sessions, an average of almost 3 sessions a month, while Noreen has attended 26 sessions.  They also participate in the DPAS at-home interviews.  In addition, Hugh has participated in cardiac lectures.  It is obvious that they are vital to the success of the IMP patient volunteer program.

    When asked what benefits they thought students get from their interactions with volunteer patients, Noreen stated "It is a terrific way for students to develop their patient interviewing skills.  They learn how to ask the right questions and how to develop their bedside manner".   Hugh appreciates that feedback from volunteer patients is valued as part of the student evaluation.   Both of them are impressed with the quality of the students that they encounter, finding them to be well-spoken, considerate, empathetic and very appreciative of the volunteer patients.

    Deanna Stratford, IMP Volunteer Patient Coordinator, describe Hugh and Noreen as "warm and patient people who do their best to help our students".  The Greens, like so many of our volunteer patients, show a dedication and commitment to the IMP and our students that cannot be overstated, and for that we are indeed grateful!

    Geoff de Ruiter

    Geoff de Ruiter is a busy young man. He has just completed a master’s degree at the University of Victoria (UVic) and he is working hard to get the funding in place to establish an energy cooperative. He has also managed to be an active and reliable volunteer patient with the Island Medical Program.Geoff de Ruiter

    Geoff’s original intention following high school was to study medicine, so he pursued a B.Sc. in Biology at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George and then transferred to UVic to complete a M.Sc. in Kinesiology. While studying at UNBC he developed an interest in energy conservation. In 2008, he and a partner took first place at the BC Hydro PowerSmart Innovation Challenge, a competition that encourages post-secondary institutions to “contribute innovative solutions and ideas toward advancing energy efficiency and building a conservation culture.” Winning this competition made Geoff rethink his career choice, and he is now pursuing opportunities in the green economy.

    Involved in volunteering since high school, Geoff started with the volunteer patient program at the Northern Medical School while he was an undergraduate student at UNBC.

    Shortly after moving to Victoria to begin graduate studies, he signed on to become a volunteer patient with the Island Medical Program (IMP). Over the last 3 years, Geoff has been a mainstay of the IMP volunteer program and has participated in numerous asymptomatic clinical sessions. He has also volunteered as a demonstration patient for new spine examination techniques and expanded his horizons as a patient “actor” in the Island Medical Program promotional video! As described by Deanna Stratford, Volunteer Patient Coordinator at the IMP, “Geoff is always cheerful, willing and helpful and is admired by the students and tutors alike”.

    Geoff enjoys his role as a volunteer patient. His science background makes him a knowledgable patient with a unique perspective, able to engage with medical students as they conduct their clinical assessments. He can also relate to them as someone from their own peer group. In return, Geoff has benefited by becoming more knowledgeable about his own body and health.

    Geoff is moving on to a new stage in his life, but plans to continue as a volunteer patient with the IMP as time permits. Staff, tutors and students from the program congratulate Geoff on his academic success, and hope to see him continue as a volunteer for years to come!

    Arthur Tomsett

    “I look at this as payback!”

    This was Arthur Tomsett’s response when asked what prompted him to become involved with the Island Medical Program as a volunteer patient.Arthur has spent the past 20 years dealing with serious health issues which have required treatment by numerous health care professionals. When his wife Shirley, a former nurse, saw a notice in the newspaper about 2 years ago, looking to recruit volunteer patients for the Island Medical Program, Arthur decided this was his chance to give something back to the health care system.

    Arthur Tomsett

    For the most part, volunteer patients work with first and second year undergraduate medical students. Arthur thinks it is a good thing to expose medical students to patients early. He feels the clinical skills sessions with volunteer patients gives students an opportunity to spend the extra time needed to connect with patients as “people” with distinct personalities, particularly important when it comes to dealing with elderly patients. In his many encounters with physicians over the last 2 decades, Arthur has seen many who look at patients as just “someone with a problem”. Working with volunteer patients also provides students with the opportunity to overcome some of the shyness and anxiety they have about putting their skills into practice. Arthur likes to joke around a little with students during the clinical sessions to help them feel more relaxed and comfortable.

    Arthur has been a stalwart volunteer patient with the Island Medical Program. Just this past year alone, he participated in 14 separate clinical skills sessions related to pulse and pulmonary physicals as well as history physicals. In addition, Arthur and Shirley were interview participants in two Family Practice lectures on Geriatrics and were interviewed in their home by a first-year medical student as part of the Doctor, Patient and Society (DPAS) course. Both Arthur and Shirley see the DPAS course as being extremely beneficial to medical students.

    Arthur’s final comments about the volunteer patient program at the Island Medical Program…”it’s a good program, and it works! I’m already looking forward to next year!” The volunteer patient program works because of dedicated people like Arthur and Shirley, and we are grateful for their participation!

    Note: Sadly, Mr. Tomsett passed away on November 16, 2009. He will be very much missed by the physicians, staff and students of the Island Medical Program. Our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

    Carol Bruner

    Carol Bruner has lived with pain all of her adult life. She suffers from the persistent pain associated with chronic pancreatitis, which is swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas that leads to scarring and loss of function.

    When Carol first started to suffer from attacks of pancreatitis she was in her mid-teens. Through careful attention to diet, she was able to manage the frequency of pancreatitis attacks, allowing her to live a fairly normal life in early adulthood. Carol pursued post-secondary studies in music, obtaining a Bachelors and Masters degree in music history. She began a PhD in musicology, but switched her focus to music therapy and teaching after realizing that her ever-worsening medical condition gave her a particular insight into how music could be used to help people maintain or improve their health. Carol worked in Vancouver as a music therapist until 2002, when the effects of her chronic pancreatitis forced her to go on permanent disability.

    Carol Bruner

    Now residing in Victoria, Carol became involved with the Island Medical Program about 3 years ago, after reading an article about the Program’s need for volunteer patients. She is currently a volunteer patient for both the clinical skills sessions and the home-based Doctor, Patient and Society course, and regularly volunteers for medical student exams. Carol also assists with volunteer appreciation activities (previewing information videos, facilitating group discussions, helping with the invitation design and mail outs). “Without Carol we would have a big hole in our program” says Deanna Stratford, one of the IMP patient coordinators.

    Carol’s experiences with the medical students have been very positive she feels they are a generation who are empathetic, eager to learn, have great communication skills and great “personality”. She also appreciates the support she receives from the Patient Coordinators as well as the physicians and tutors involved in the program.

    Carol plans to stay involved as a volunteer patient as long as she is able - to be, as she modestly describes it, “a little cog in the wheel to educate doctors in BC”. The students, teachers and administrators in the Island Medical Program are fortunate to have Carol’s long-lasting commitment and fortitude little cog indeed!

    Ernie Stignant

    On Wednesday mornings, Ernie Stigant makes his way to the Union Club in downtown Victoria for a 7am breakfast meeting with the Victoria Harbourside Rotary Club. Ernie is dedicated…not everyone would have the fortitude to get up so early on dark, dreary winter mornings to head off to a volunteer activity. What makes his dedication more exceptional is that Ernie has MS (multiple sclerosis).

    MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. The disease, which was first diagnosed in 1998, limits Ernie’s mobility so that he must use a scooter to get around. MS has forced Ernie to give up a successful business, but he keeps busy and involved in other pursuits. He has his rotary work (he is a current board member), is a board member with the Capital Region Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, has become more involved with disability issues and is a long-time volunteer patient with the Island Medical Program!

    Ernie Stignant

    A few years ago Ernie saw a notice posted at the MS centre in Victoria, asking for volunteer patients to help out with the clinical skills training of IMP medical students. At the time, Ernie figured “it would be a good thing to do” so he signed up. Three years later, Ernie continues to participate as a volunteer patient! This year he is also volunteering in home-based interviews with medical students as part of the Doctor, Patient and Society course. Ernie thinks it is important for medical students to work with “real” patients to overcome tentativeness during examinations and to develop good assessment skills that will make them better physicians.

    At a volunteer patient appreciation event, Ernie was impressed to hear a local physician recount how he still remembers the volunteer patients he worked with during his medical school training. Ernie acknowledges that sometimes he is recognized on the street by medical students who have worked with him, making him feel a bit like a “rock star”!

    Ernie’s involvement in his community and his commitment to the IMP Volunteer Patients Program demonstrates that he lives every day by the Rotarian motto “service above self”!

    Greg Henderson

    Greg Henderson

    Among Greg Henderson’s eclectic passions are motorbike riding with his girlfriend, creating beautiful wooden bowls on the lathe in his carpentry workshop and now, volunteering as a practice patient for the Island Medical Program. “I like being able to help, it’s rewarding and the students make me laugh,” says Greg, age 37, who was discovered to have a cyst in the back of his head at age 18 and, ever since, has become extremely familiar with the medical world while doctors deal with his complex condition. “I’ve spent a great deal of time in and out of hospitals with so many people helping me over the last 20 years… if I can give something back and these students can learn from my situation, then that’s great,” he says. “They can go ahead, poke and prod me .. I’m used to it.”

    Susan Berg

    Despite multiple health challenges, Susan Berg’s calm and gracious demeanor puts everyone at ease when she volunteers as a practice patient for the IMP. Program staff and students saluted Susan and other volunteer patients at an appreciation breakfast and information session held recently at UVic’s Medical Sciences Building.

    Susan Berg

    “You are playing an essential role,” said Dr.Oscar Casiro, associate dean, thanking all the IMP volunteers both for their participation and for helping to establish medical education on Vancouver Island. “Clinical skills practice starts right away and continues throughout the four year program. We couldn’t do this without your help.” Susan has included IMP volunteering as part of the new life she is creating for herself since chronic illness forced her to give up her work as a computer programmer with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

    “I was a bit anxious about doing this (IMP volunteering) at first especially because of my size, but I’ve always been treated with the utmost dignity and respect by everyone involved,” says Susan. “Now I’m really glad that I have the chance to educate students about dealing with people facing this type of health challenge,” “My message to other people thinking about volunteering: ‘Just go for it, you’ll be glad you did.’”

    A Unique Contribution

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