Belfast Telegraph

QUB medical students wear 'skin cancer tattoos' to gain insight into experience of patients

By Claire Williamson

Medical students at Queen's University Belfast are learning first-hand what it's like to "walk in the shoes" of a patient as they got an insight into life with skin cancer.

A new research study suggests this will enable the students better for the future.

Simulation techniques are being used more often to allow students to experience the challenge their patients can encounter.

Melanoma or skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, claiming over 2,500 lives every year.

Over 15,000 patients will be diagnosed with melanoma cancer every year.

As part of the project the students were encouraged to wear a highly realistic temporary tattoo of a malignant melanoma before listening to an audio account of a patient sharing their experience of what it was like to discover a melanoma.

It can take the form of a mole on the skin. So the highly-realistic transfer tattoos have been developed that can be applied to skin to give the impression of a malignant melanoma.

The temporary tattoo works as a visual stimulus which can introduce some of the emotional perspectives that patients can often experience.

Dr Gerry Gormley of Queen's University said the experience had a "profound and positive impact" on the students.

He said: "Beyond the clinical diagnosis it encouraged them to consider the person behind the illness, enabling them to develop greater empathy which will stand them in good stead as future clinicians and healthcare providers.

“Experiential learning is important in training doctors to be fully prepared for future eventualities, an approach that could be rolled out wider to benefit doctors and patients alike.”

One medical student who took part in the study said it had improved their "empathy" towards patients.

They said: “It has been a really valuable experience to put myself in the place of a patient. I feel that I can better relate to patients who have received such a diagnosis. It has improved my empathy towards patients and has given me a much greater respect for what they have to deal with.”

The study, which is led by Queen’s University in collaboration with researchers from the University of Huddersfield and University College Dublin, has been published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

It found that the experiences triggered students to look inwardly and consider what it might be like to have a malignant melanoma diagnosis, gaining an important insight into the potential disruption melanoma can have on patients’ lives.

The British Journal of Dermatology said: “While nothing can simulate the emotional impact of receiving a cancer diagnosis, this is a novel tool to help doctors understand what it feels like to have a visible skin disorder, and how this can attract unwanted attention from strangers, leaving people feeling self-conscious. Any measures that allow for increased empathy in clinics can only be a good thing."

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