Putting patients in the spotlight

Judith Brown, PhD

“Often times in medicine, the patient can be forgotten,” said Judith Brown, PhD. “Medical professionals and organizations place a great deal of emphasis on the disease, however it is it is imperative that the individual patient remains central.”

It is this opinion that has driven Brown to concentrate her research on the patient-centred clinical method throughout her career.

The patient-centred clinical method involves not only understanding the disease, but also understanding the illness experience for the patient, as well as the patient’s own perceptions and expectations of health. This understanding assists clinicians in finding common ground regarding management and/or treatment. Underpinning this foundation is the enhancement of the patient-doctor relationship — building trust and communication and showing respect, care and compassion.

One of Brown’s goals through looking at the patient-centred approach has been to improve care for patients in family medicine, and medicine across the board. She also works on research involving interprofessional teamwork in primary care and physician well-being.

With a PhD in social work from Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Massachusetts, Brown became a full-time faculty member with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Department of Family Medicine in 1990. She is the Chair of the Department’s Master of Clinical Science and PhD programs — unique programs with the purpose of training family physicians that want to become teachers and full-time researchers.

Brown explained that research is fundamental to any discipline, and family medicine requires more doctors leading research in the field.

“These programs were created to give family physicians the opportunity to be competitive in the research field, because in order to build and sustain a discipline you need good research,” the award-winning researcher said. “Much of practise today is evidence-based, so if you don’t have evidence that is relevant to family medicine, it doesn’t give you the adequate and fulsome evidence you need to fulfill your work.”

Brown, who supervises trainees enrolled in the programs, explained that the programs are small compared to others at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry because when physicians decide to enroll in these programs they are often making a significant career change from community practice to academic practice. 

However, the distance education component allows physicians from all over the world to enroll in the programs, which enhances the richness of discussions and variety of experiences shared amongst the classes.

“When we made the decision to go to distance education, I was really worried about the impact it would have on the course delivery,” Brown said. “In reality, it has been more effective — there is more openness, candidness and self-disclosure in these programs than I have ever experienced in a face-to-face classroom.”

There is a tremendous connection between the roles Brown currently assumes. She is able to share her research interests and knowledge on the patient-centred method with trainees while teaching a course entitled Advanced Patient-Centred Medicine.