Story – Caring for Patients, Beyond Clinical (Patient Liaison Program)

Irfan Khan’s family has called Hamilton home since they moved to Canada from Bangladesh two decades ago. He went through the Hamilton school system, recently graduating McMaster University with a Kinesiology degree. His first love is science, but he also loves music, teaching English at his local library, and volunteering. He knew he wanted a career in health care, so he looked into volunteering at St. Joe’s to give him a taste of what it would be like. That was back in 2015 during his first year at McMaster, and he’s been volunteering at St. Joe’s ever since.

“I get to feel like I’m a part of patient care, even if the work I’m doing is not clinical.”

He began an Ambassador Volunteer, helping patients and visitors alike navigate the Charlton campus halls. Then he moved to the endoscopy unit, which provided more direct patient interaction. He supported patients through their journey while building relationships with people he met.

Eventually, Irfan ended up supporting the Rehab Lunch program, feeling lucky that he was able to see the same patients weekly and develop even deeper relationships. It gave him a chance to get to know them in a way he didn’t have the opportunity to before.

Now, Irfan is part of the Patient Liaison program, which he says is his favourite role yet.

“I get to experience what healthcare providers do, which has informed what I want to do in the future. I really enjoy it. It’s incredibly fulfilling for me.”

As a Patient Liaison, he’s responsible for sharing brochures with non-clinical information to newly admitted patients, including visiting and food service hours, TV and telephone information, discharge procedures, and spiritual care. The brochure also includes information for patients and their families about being involved in their own care and resources for sharing feedback about the hospital experience. He loves getting to interact with patients from all walks of life, with different conditions and unique stories.

Irfan recalls talking with one visibly agitated patient, who was angry and frustrated during their first meeting. By asking questions and ensuring the patient felt heard, Irfan learned that this patient only wanted to call her sister, but hadn’t been able to communicate that to others. Irfan helped by lending her his cell phone, and after a short chat with her sister, the patient’s demeanor changed. She opened up about her life, and the two were able to make a genuine connection.

“I don’t know if what I did was clinically significant, but if it made the nurses’ and doctors’ jobs easier by improving her mood, then I think that counts.”

He truly values his role as a volunteer, especially given its impact on a patient’s stay. So often, people just want to make a personal connection. Volunteers like Irfan are a point of contact, passing on questions where necessary and working hard to make sure patients feel at ease.

Irfan is still actively pursuing a career in health care. Volunteering over the last four years has taught him so much about how health care works and the different roles happening within our hospital walls. Being a doctor sounds appealing, but his main objective is to make a difference, no matter how big or small, in the life of a patient.

“I think I love learning more than anything else, from school or from people,” said Irfan. “I highly recommend this role, especially if you’re interested in a career in health care. You’ll learn empathy, and you’ll build relationships.”

The Patient Liaison program was launched in 2016 in General internal Medicine (GIM). It’s been such a success that on January 14 the program is expanding to most inpatient units at St. Joe’s.

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