September 2019 marks the official end of the CASO funding period, and CASO recently hosted a symposium in Cape Town to share consortium achievements with academics and community members and provide delegates with an opportunity to ‘experience’ the various programmes through facilitated workshops.

This was a wonderful moment for the Patient Partner Programme to reflect on what we have achieved over the last two-and-a-half-years, and how what was initially envisioned has taken root, grown, and blossomed into so much more than we could have ever predicted.

The programme’s approach to curriculum develop has been unusual in that it brought together a multidisciplinary team of local and international academics, students, and patient partners (or experts by experience), to collaboratively develop a patient-centred communication curriculum that is appropriate for the unique South African context, but which can be adapted for use in Europe as well. While ‘simulated’ or ‘standardised patients’ and ‘service users’ are a well-known phenomenon (especially in the global North), their use has largely been confined to assessment and teaching contexts, as exemplars. Patient partners, on the other hand, fill a broader and more flexible role as equal partners that can responsively participate in teaching, assessment, and curriculum development. Their specialist role within the programme has led to proposed policy changes regarding engagement with ‘experts by experience’ at all three European partner institutions.

Dr Elmi Badenhorst (UCT), Tuula Hypponen (LAMK), and Bart Paaimans (Avans) co-facilitate a workshop on diversity competence.

The communication curriculum has evolved through multiple iterations and formats. Firstly, a workshop on intercultural communication was developed. The workshop has been presented 13 times at a variety of local and international institutions (and at the symposium, as ‘Diversity Competence’) and has since been further developed into a ‘Diversity Competence’ module, which will be offered at LAMK in the Bachelor of Social Services Curriculum, 2020. Based on this foundation, a course called ‘Communication as a Participatory Process’ was developed and includes modules that focus on learning with and from experts by experience; communication in context; diversity competence; inter-professional communication; and interpersonal communication. The course is being hosted on the LAMK MOOC platform and will go live later this year. While South African students will not engage with the MOOC as a stand-alone course, curricular content has been embedded in existing courses across both the DHRS and MBChB programmes at UCT. An example of this, ‘Using the ICF framework as a common language in collaborative education and practice’, was presented as a workshop at the symposium.

Dr Vic McKinney, A/Prof Soraya Maart, and Anthea Hansen (not pictured) from UCT co-facilitated a workshop on using the ICF Framework

Another programme goal was to facilitate international mobility. Four South African students had the opportunity to visit Belgium and the Netherlands as part of the MBChB Special Study Module, and eight European students have completed local internships and undergraduate theses towards bachelor qualifications in social work, and nursing. While, later this year, five of the patient partners will be travelling to Europe to network with service-users and community empowerment initiatives. For most of the patient partners this will be their first opportunity to travel internationally and the experience will contribute to their development as patient partners and adult learners in the Higher Certificate in Adult Education, and Disability and Aging courses. The fact that the programme has enabled the achievement of qualifications, especially for patient partners, has been an unexpected and gratifying outcome, and a masters-level project is also underway to explore the experiences of patient partners as partners within the programme.

Engagement beyond the university has been fundamental to the programme’s success. Initially this began by working with NPO, Zakheni Transformative Arts Centre, who provided extensive training to the patient partners on mindfulness in communication encounters. This association also opened new doors for the patient partners, two of whom have subsequently joined Zakheni’s Bonfire Theatre, an improvisational theatre company (who also facilitated a workshop at the symposium) that works with audience stories to create a transformational healing space between the story and a theatrical representation of the story.

Bonfire interactive performance workshop

The programme has also led to positive outcomes within local communities. European students had the opportunity to participate in health promotion activities in South Africa focused on stroke, disability, and aging, while one of the patient partners has recently established an NGO with community members for the support of people living with stroke.

With the official project end in sight, the team are now highly focused on finalising programme outcomes and, more importantly, reflecting on the lessons learned from this collaboration and planning for the future sustainability of what has already been established.

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