Patient Partner Coordinator publishes first book

Friday 29 September 2023

The author, Ms Charlie Guy, is seated at a picnic table posing with a copy of her book held in front of her.

School of Medicine Patient Partner Coordinator Ms Charlie Guy is celebrating the release of her first book, published by CRC Press on 4 September. The Art of Medical Communication: Bringing the Humanities into Clinical Practice draws on Ms Guy’s passion for the arts and humanities and experience of the UK healthcare system as a carer, patient, and NHS employee.

Having supported three close family members through prolonged illness and NHS contact, Ms Guy has a strong appreciation for the importance of effective medical communication. Doctors who communicated clearly and compassionately have created a sense of safety and ease for both Ms Guy and her relatives during times of stress and uncertainty. Such clinicians have made sure to use accessible language, engage in active listening, and empathise with the patient as an individual.

Conversely, interactions lacking these crucial elements often exacerbated the Guy family’s anxiety. These impressions were reinforced by Ms Guy’s simultaneous experience as an NHS administrator, interacting with patients and families regularly.

The specific idea of improving medical communication through exposure to the humanities, however, emerged from Ms Guy’s experience as a Human Anatomy Masters student in 2019. In a class full of aspiring doctors, Ms Guy – an avid social historian with a Masters degree in English Literature – was initially intimidated by her classmates’ extensive scientific knowledge. However, as the course continued, she came to appreciate her own unique contributions as a humanities graduate.

Studying history, literature, and art, Ms Guy realised, encourages people to reflect, helps them learn from their collective past, and exposes them to varied perspectives and cultures. All of these processes cultivate their capacity for empathy, which is crucial for effective communication. As so much of clinical practice involves communicating with patients and families, often under emotionally challenging circumstances, Ms Guy began to see a role for the humanities in fostering these interpersonal skills.

As the UK entered lockdown in March 2020, Ms Guy found herself with the time to consider her idea more closely and began work on The Art of Medical Communication. The result was a book written specifically for medical students that explores the historical relationship between the “two spheres” of science and the arts. It highlights how these spheres are far more interconnected than they are traditionally perceived to be, using real-world examples from practitioners whose work has benefitted from engagement with the humanities.

Ms Guy hopes the book will stimulate self-reflection in future doctors, improving clinical interactions for both practitioners and patients:

“My work with the NHS, and my experience as both a patient and a carer, inspired me to write this book. I have been party to some excellent communication, both professionally and personally. However, I have also experienced some difficult interactions that heightened rather than alleviated patients’ anxiety. This is not what going to the doctor should be like.”

“I feel really passionate about patients being viewed as individuals and not statistics – which is why I was so keen to work with the Patient Partner programme here at St Andrews. The volunteers we have come in to speak to our students are so interesting, and so valuable to the student experience – being able to give real opinions, experiences, and insights into what medical care is and should be going forward.”

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