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Sunday Friend Project

- “Patients are the people, not the illness.” - - “As we advance in higher education, we see much less of the patient and more of the illness… to the point that when we meet patients, we see nothing but the illness they suffer from.” -

      The above words reflect the lessons learned by medical students at Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Medicine after participating in the “Sunday Friend Project”. These medical students spend their leisure time in the Yen Sira Building at Wat Koknao Temple, a center which holds the quarters of cancer patients awaiting radiation treatment.

      The Sunday Friend Project was initiated with an aim to prepare new medical students, who completed their entrance examinations, to become a new generation of good and competent doctors empowered with a humane heart. The project began by observing and interviewing medical instructors to determine an ideal criteria or set of attributes for medical students. The student unit, together with Asst. Prof. Dr. Jarurin Pitanupong, pushed forward the Sunday Friend Project to encourage medical students to achieve an ideal set of attributes by developing their efficiencies and emotional intelligence. Apart from obtaining skills in treating ailments, medical students should achieve a level of awareness, responsibility, virtues, and ethics. A goal was set to achieve self-development in 10 specific areas among medical students:
      1. Proper attitude and intention toward the medical profession
      2. Steadfast in virtues and ethics
      3. Good state of mind and mental health
      4. Generally good characteristics
      5. A keen interest in the happiness and suffering of patients and a mutual desire to help others
      6. Good human relations and communication skills
      7. Adaptability and problem-solving capabilities
      8. Maturity and self-confidence
      9. A keen interest in society and the environment
      and 10. General knowledge and eagerness to learn.

      Another important lesson relevant to strong communication skills is to foster a mutual understanding between doctor and patient or “to place their needs above our own”; for example, a giver who may think his actions are beneficial to the receiver is often ignoring the true desires of the receiver – which are often neither difficult nor great. Talking with the receiver and asking about their needs is a great way to learn from patients whether the benefits are what they truly desire. This is a method of putting their needs above our own.

      Listening to patients attentively (i.e. “being a good listener”) and showing sincerity can reduce the doctor-patient gap. Instead of being too conceited with the doctor status, one should aim to gain trust as a friend. This will reduce mental suffering, distance between doctor-patient, hesitancy to speak, act, or ask questions by the patient. These problems are often part of the cause of illness. If a doctor helps by listening to the patient and easing their heartache and worries, patients will find it easier to recover. Doctors must be individuals empowered with excellent communication skills and patience, they must be capable of listening to patients’ problems and ready to provide solutions.

      The project’s activities aim at developing emotional intelligence and self-awareness; participants are encouraged to work together as a team and realize that “we are not alone”, since a common problem among individuals who excel in studies is a tendency to have their own personal world and to show overly high levels of confidence. It is therefore crucial to learn and understand empathy through group processes and learning by doing with the patient at the centre of all activities. The project includes group relationship activities and goodwill activities that peer directly into the needs of patients and encourage teamwork among the medical students.

      The project also encourages students to discover self-value and human self-reflection through group processes and learning by doing. Participants are encouraged to discover self-value and attributes of a good doctor by realizing the value of other people. Medical students are taught to reflect feelings and opinions of oneself and others within the group toward volunteer work with patients at the centre of all activities. Additionally, participants are taught to analyze if the activities responded to the patients’ self-value with sustainable long-term results.

      The Sunday friend project has been underway for 4 years now and is a good start for first-year medical students to learn and develop their skills in truly caring for patients through the heart by talking and listening to the needs of patients. The project aims at creating awareness among its volunteers, a desire to see the patients happy, and sincere intention to care for the patient in addition to performing duties as a physician. Participants learn to express concern in the happiness and suffering of patients by giving words of comfort or listening to stories of the patient. The participants ultimately learn from the patients and come into contact with diverse perspectives and people. They become capable of showing concern and understanding the patient as a friend and fellow human being. Furthermore, the project gives future doctors a feeling of pride in performing good deeds with a volunteer spirit. By sincerely helping patients, these medical students learn the meaning of life. In the years to come, these future doctors will be able to organize more activities as volunteers to share with other people. Before fully entering the profession as good doctors, they learn how to create a quality of life for people in society.