A powerful recipe: People living with dementia + Future health care leaders + the Whose Shoes? approach…

I love working with students – especially health and social care students. They really ‘get’ Whose Shoes?® and report that the concept of “walking in the shoes of others” helps them build empathy. Keen students want to understand the people they are working with as well as learning what is medically wrong with them. They know that we are in a period of unprecedented change and are fascinated by how this change affects different individuals and groups.

We have just had the pleasure of having a Year 4 medical student, a friend of my daughter, staying with us this weekend and I loved her compassionate, enquiring mind.

Chatting to her reminded me of the wonderful two days I spent as part of the team delivering the College of Medicine Summer School at the Medical School, University of Birmingham. Even now, a couple of months on, this really was a special event. So far I have only written my crowd-sourced “Top 10 #dementiachallengers tips” but nothing about the event itself. So, I decided to write one of many “never quite had time to write but still in my head” blogs. 🙂 (I promise you, there are lots!) Photos by Guillermo Gallego, with thanks for permission to reproduce in this blogpost. More photos here.

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The Summer School had a hashtag of #DementiaAware which continues to be used to good effect. I remember how apt it felt as my colleague Rosemary Hurtley and I struggled to navigate the sprawling buildings by day and, far more alarmingly, the Halls of Residence at night. They all looked exactly the same and didn’t seem to have any kind of logic in terms of the numbering system and where we thought we were trying to go. “Dementia friendly design” is actually something that most of us would appreciate, I believe, if we are honest!

The students who attended the Summer School were exceptional in so many ways. A course such as this, held in the summer recess and at a weekend, would only attract students prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ and I understand it was nearly four-times over subscribed. It was a real privilege to work with such a diverse group (including many mature students), selected from universities and colleges from across the UK. What an opportunity! – our future doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists, social workers, speech therapists, social workers, physios (the list goes on) keen to learn more about dementia, to see the real person and to treat every individual with dignity and respect.

I am a huge believer in the value of inter-professional learning. The way in which the students networked and embraced all the opportunities available was truly heartening. If we want professionals to work collaboratively, why would we teach them in silos? There seem to be too few opportunities for students to get to know each other and understand the roles of other disciplines, paving the way to collaborative working as the ‘norm’ from Day 1.

A couple of students gave food for thought for health and social care leaders:

Kate Fismer, the Student Engagement Officer and main event organiser from the College of Medicine, had pulled together a wonderful programme. Day 1 was full of inspirational speakers, including two of our #dementiachallengers who have written “in my shoes” guest blogs in this series – Dr Karim Saad and Simona Florio. Very different people doing very different things, but equally passionate about reducing stigma and improving lives.

The thought-provoking approach and practical information on Day 1 paved the way for our highly interactive workshops on Day 2. Kate Fismer had planned just two workshops so I was very honoured to be asked to run a Whose Shoes? session. I also liked the little story that sat behind this decision…

This was the 3rd Annual Summer School and apparently in Year 1 there had been a good choice of longer workshops. The students said that was great but they had not been able to go to all the ones they wanted to attend. So, in Year 2, the College ran shorter workshops and designed the programme so that students could go to all of them. Hmm, apparently that was good too but the sessions were too short and students wanted something in more depth…. scratching of heads… “you can’t please all of the people…”

So now, in Year 3 (September 2013) there were to be just two in-depth workshops, with 40 out of 80 students in each – repeated so that all the students could attend both. Apparently this was popular – I wonder what they will do next year… 😉

The ‘other’ workshop was led by Maizie Mears-Owen, Head of Dementia Care, Care UK, who shares my belief that experiential experiences stick with people far more than just being told facts. So I was delighted to hear that the students had an opportunity to experience some of the sensory experiences / disturbances that people living with dementia may experience. Here’s a short film showing some of Maizie’s work.

I thought long and hard about how best to use the opportunity presented by our workshop and who to involve. Every Whose Shoes?® session is different, as the tool is designed to be used very flexibly. I find it particularly effective (of course!) to involve people who are living with dementia and use ‘real life’ stories.

I was delighted when Ken Howard agreed to co-facilitate with me, a lovely guy with younger onset dementia. Ken had co-presented, in an interactive interview format, with Dr Karim Saad the previous day and so the students already ‘knew’ him.

We got the students, using the Whose Shoes? approach, to understand and explore the real-life challenges Ken faces, helping them appreciate how each individual’s illness presents different challenges. They came up with some very practical solutions (eg specific software to help overcome problems with reading and writing ). Ken said it was very powerful and he really enjoyed it (“far better than just standing at the front of the room and telling my story”). We even encouraged Ken to get up and running on Twitter so that he could enjoy the continuing conversations.

Ken was also keen to meet other people with dementia and I was delighted when he met the inspirational Norrms (Norman McNamara) at our Whose Shoes? workshop at the Dementia Congress more recently. Discussions are all very well but it is always most rewarding when I get to see specific outcomes being achieved.

We also involved two other wonderful “real people” in the workshop, Larry Gardiner and Dr John Cosgrove, and we carried on a themed approach to working through the key issues that had been identified. Hopefully this will be written up as a more detailed case study in due course but I am focusing here on Ken’s story and how the students responded.

At the end of the workshops, we went into a rallying call asking the students to make specific pledges as to what they would actually DO as a result of the Whose Shoes?® sessions and the learning from the wider conference. This was a bit spontaneous on the day and really seemed to fire up both groups – I wish we had had a more systematic way of capturing them. Unfortunately the sound and lighting on the video from our session wasn’t very good, which was a shame as some fabulous pledges were made – it was a bit like a mini NHS Change Day! We know that students have already written articles for university newsletters and care magazines, become Dementia Friends and are using social media to share their learning….

Two of our #DementiaAware students, Laura Hensley and Steve Garvey, had been so inspired by the Whose Shoes?® workshop that they produced a poster about their experiences and entered it in a poster competition at the Centre For The Advancement Of Interprofessional Education (Caipe) Annual Student Conference on Saturday (16 November) at Coventry University. I believe it is still on display so am hoping to call in and see it! It felt very appropriate as the Health Design Technology Institute (HDTI) and other parts of Coventry University were involved in the early development, user testing and prototyping of Whose Shoes?®

Special mention must go to Anna Geyer, New Possibilities. We were fortunate to have Anna’s amazing graphic facilitation skills, which always add huge value. Ken’s messages came across loud and clear and similarly the students could see their suggestions being included in the graphic record.

It has been great to keep in touch with some of the students after the event and see the various ways they are continuing to follow up and build on the learning. I am hoping to post some student guest blogs including from Laura and Steve telling us more about Caipe poster… and to add a photo here!

Here are two lovely testimionials:

“I know that you put your heart and soul plus lots of creativity and thought into the Whose Shoes? workshops and it really showed. The Whose Shoes? workshops received glowing praise in the student feedback session at the end of day and the students really seemed to appreciate the outcome focused nature of it. I think that they felt valued and that it also made them feel that they had a voice, had something to contribute and can make a difference – thank you so much ! It’s sad that they don’t feel this all the time but this highlights why the Summer School and the Whose Shoes? tool are vitally important. Ken also echoed many of the feelings that the students expressed in that he now feels that he really can make a difference and that his voice was heard! How wonderful!”
Kate Fismer

“In Gill Phillips’ (Whose Shoes?) workshop, we were enabled to think critically about treating a dementia patient, question assumptions and myths and be made aware of the barriers in diagnosis and treatment for dementia patients. We also learned from a service user that a lack of a diagnosis of dementia can hinder support and treatment.”
Student feedback

I was disappointed that, due to the lighting issues, our workshop and my adrenalin-fuelled interview didn’t make it into the final cut, but here is a great video that gives a good flavour of the overall event:

As you will have gathered, I loved the College of Medicine event. It was huge a privilege to work with such motivated, challenging, receptive, proactive, thoughtful multi-disciplinary students… and hopefully provoke thoughts and ideas that will stay with them throughout their future careers and lives. As one student commented, it really felt the Summer School brought together the future leaders of health and social care.

So, building on the learning from this and our workshop at the European Alzheimers conference in Malta,  I will shortly be touring Australia with my inspirational friend and colleague, Kate Swaffer, Chair of the new Alzheimer’s Australia’s Dementia Advisory Committee…
Watch this space… 😉

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About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives. http://nutshellcomms.co.uk
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7 Responses to A powerful recipe: People living with dementia + Future health care leaders + the Whose Shoes? approach…

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