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The power of hearing directly from patients – a student perspective

Anya de Iongh

Reflections of an OT student on the value of the narratives on OurCovidVoices in helping link theory to practice.

  • What We Need Now
  • Lived experience
  • COVID-19

As a healthcare professional student, you are always trying to make theory-practice links – taking things from dusty old textbooks (or e-books, as it has been in recent months!) into real life. When much of ‘real-life practice’ as a student risks feeling even more distant than our socially distanced meet-ups, finding ways to keep it real and meaningful can be challenging. I wanted to write this blog to share my experiences of using patient narratives from the OurCovidVoices platform to help me make those important theory-practice links as an Occupational Therapy student.

I’m not the first person to have found value in these online patient narratives as a student – CareOpinion for example, has been used in innovative medical school modules. The ‘transformative power of patient narratives in healthcare education’ has also been well documented.

I’m aware that I refer to OurCovidVoices as ‘patient’ perspectives, when people are contributing more as people in our communities than as people accessing healthcare services. The key points here mirror those of other online ‘patient narratives’ so hence using the phrase, but acknowledging how limited a term patient can be.

Although I’m an OT student, and used the OurCovidVoices platform in the context of an essay on occupational science, the wide-ranging impact of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions have shone a light on the issues covered by sociology for example and many other fields within healthcare, so there are acres of theory that can be linked to the practice seen in these narratives.

One of the many things that made me so passionate about Occupational Therapy as a career choice was the ‘everyday’ of it – the things we want to do, need to do and can’t do have such an impact. It is these little things each day that shine through the accounts shared on OurCovidVoices, and really reconnected me in the midst of essays and online learning, to why I chose to study OT, and why many of us students choose to study healthcare more generally. Reading these narratives through an ‘occupational’ lens, the value of the theories in helping understanding and frame the experiences so eloquently and honestly shared was clear.

Patient Narratives as a Source

As someone who used to blog a lot and share my experiences as a patient, it felt particularly important to be using patient perspectives as the starting point for an academic essay on the impact of COVID-19 on people who were shielding. I used OurCovidVoices as my primary source of perspectives for an essay, and found it to be an invaluable resource. As with any academic essay, critically examining your sources is important. Although it didn’t have the qualities of a randomised controlled trial, I didn’t have to discount them as purely ‘anecdotal’ because there were so many other strengths in their qualitative nature.

Learning how to understand subjective qualitative information is such a common and important part of healthcare, so developing these skills in our reading is always time well spent. On OurCovidVoices, the accounts are unedited, retaining their individual validity and significance, and this in itself, gave me lots to talk about!

While as students we might be using patient blogs or perspectives to contribute to discussions about theoretical concepts, we need to make sure that the questions we are asking focus on the definitions and application of theory without undermining the validity of the lived experience. Whether or not an occupational science concept (or other theory) can be accurately applied to individuals in this context, it is important to remember that it does not invalidate the reality of the circumstances that so many people have experienced.

The new ‘Text Books’

I was struck by reading the accounts of people who so generously shared their experiences and perspectives how easily I saw the occupational science concepts I had studied come to life. In the text books, you often find the common examples, the ‘textbook examples’ to illustrate theories. In the occupational science books I’ve read so far, it is often refugees or prisoners, for example.

I’m sure the next editions of healthcare (and occupational science) textbooks will include many examples of the theories they cover drawn from the extraordinary events of 2020. But until those textbooks are published, and even when they are, the direct accounts from people who have lived through it are second to none. Patient blogs and perspectives such as this (and so many others like CareOpinion for example, as well as the BMJ What Your Patient Is Thinking series) should be a core part of healthcare students’ reading lists.

Thank you to all the individuals who so generously shared their experiences and narratives on the OurCovidVoices platform, and in other formats online – it is the best living breathing ‘textbook’ for healthcare students to learn what really matters.


Anya is a first year pre-registration Occupational Therapy MSc student at University of East Anglia. She has worked as a patient leader and in the area of personalised care for a number of years, and currently supports the East of England region as a supported self-management mentor with NHS England.