What is the Family Centered Experience ?

Family_1From 2003 until early 2016, The Family Centered Experience (FCE) was a required course in the University of Michigan Medical School curriculum. Through the FCE, first- and second-year medical students at the University of Michigan Medical School engaged in understanding the personal side of medicine through firsthand encounters with patients and their families.

Families who volunteered to participate in FCE opened their lives and homes and gave medical students invaluable lessons that no classroom or clinic could duplicate. In the role of “teacher”, volunteer families helped students see the patient as a whole person and how illness affected all aspects of daily life, beyond just the diagnosis of a disease. Our doctors-in-training have applied what they learned from these mentors to their clinical training and beyond.

“The FCE engages the power of the stories that individuals and families tell of illness and medical care to open the perspectives of medical students to a more humanistic approach to medicine.”

Arno K. Kumagai, M.D.
Director, Family Centered Experience
Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Education

family_2The FCE began during the first month of medical school. Once students were assigned to a family, a series of five home visits over a two-year period was scheduled Each visit was devoted to discussion of a particular theme, including the impact of illness on oneself and one’s family, the doctor-patient relationship, stigma and illness, and breaking bad news. In addition, sometime in the first year, the students accompanied their volunteer to a doctor's appointment in order to observe the interactions between patient and doctor from the patient's perspective.

In between visits, students meet with a small group of 10 other students and physician advisor to talk about their FCE families and what they have learned.

During the program, students within each small group were also organized in teams of 2-4, each representing 2-4 families, in order to explore common themes and experiences. Students were then given the task of creating something that expressed their understanding of their volunteers’ stories and were encouraged to use any medium they wished to convey the lessons that they had learned. Out of these Interpretive Projects came works of stunning depth and beauty—original poetry, songs, instrumental pieces, paintings, sculpture, multimedia presentations, and even modern dance—works that bear witness to the stories of individuals who live with chronic illness. Many of these projects have received international attention through publication in the top-tier journal in medical education, Academic Medicine (see link, “Interpretive Project Gallery” on the home page for examples).

The FCE has been publicized through numerous presentations, talks, and workshops nationally and internationally, as well as publications in Academic Medicine and other journals.

The overall aim of the Family Centered Experience has been to complement the biomedical and clinical skills training that the students receive during their first two years in medical school with a more personal side of medicine and has ultimately aspired to train physicians who are equally skilled in understanding both the complexities of clinical medicine and the personal, psychosocial, and societal aspects of illness and its care.

Note: due to major changes in the undergraduate medical school curriculum at UMMS, the Family Centered Experience Program will end in the spring of 2016.