This project established the feasibility of training and supporting mental health consumers as tutors for delivery of a jointly developed curriculum for 4th year medical students in effective approaches to interviewing. Training and delivery has continued requiring modest maintenance, perhaps in keeping with sustaining professional tutors. Consumer tutors have shown themselves to be reliable, professional in approach and amenable to feedback. Benefits for students (as measured in their open evaluations) included the extended experience of working with a consumer of health services, the development of a clearer perspective regarding consumer views and an opportunity to see people with mental illness in recovery. Students were at least as well prepared as their peers for a structured assessment in interviewing (from the combined effect of traditional and novel teaching). Students largely reported positive experiences, found the curriculum and delivery acceptable and saw tutor experience and knowledge as legitimate and valuable. Ideally it would have been useful to follow up medical students over a longer term to assess their psychiatric interviewing skill, however, this was not practically possible within this study.
The attempt to measure attitudes deserves discussion. Attitudes are recognised as an important component of curriculum development yet remain the personal business of each of us. It would be reasonable to see education as a means of working past one's own attitudes rather than seeking to refine or replace student attitudes. Guidelines for working with consumers in health care assume that "for consumer participation to be effective, all participants in the process need to respect the different skills and expertise of the other participants" [12
]. In this study, student attitudes to consumers had a tendency to improve across all dimensions measured. On average the medical students began the program with largely positive attitudes to working with and learning from consumers which may explain the lack of statistically significant difference in their attitudes pre and post the program. In addition, a finding of lack of significance using a pre and post test design with a small sample of subjects is not usual. The one attitude measured that did improve throughout the program and reached statistical significance was towards mental health clients in psychiatric wards. This finding is understandable in light of the fact that the training took place within a psychiatric unit and the program incorporated practice at live interviews with clients from the unit. In addition, the study found a change in the primary focus of medical student concerns regarding interviewing which moved from issues focused on the consumer (such as violence or unpredictability) to those focused on improving their skills in interviewing and seeing this as a worthwhile activity. In terms of their satisfaction with the training program, based on their open comments, the few students who objected at least had the challenge of working in an educational model they did not admire. This was thought provoking and engaging even if the response produced was negative.
Benefits for consumer tutors (as measured by their open evaluations) included enhanced self esteem and financial reward for work done. Consumer tutor curriculum development was novel such as utilising an art therapy vehicle to experience a non-pharmaceutical therapeutic device. Most consumer tutors have continued to teach, with appropriate breaks, and have mentored new tutors. Some have used this experience to step further into paid employment and to rehabilitate previous work skills. Consumer tutors have remained resilient and episodes of relapse appear to be multifactorial in origin (with teaching perhaps one of the factors). This robustness was also found in a study of psychological impact on consumers working in a peer support role in an acute care setting [13
]. Consumer presentations have centred on the powerful personal effects of participation in learning new skills and gaining confidence. The largely positive ratings of tutors about the program was not as positive as the medical students, highlighting the need to evaluate both groups to adequately measure the effectiveness of the program.
Benefits for the health system included the placement of consumers in a 'professional' light. Consumer tutors shared the staff tearoom, were paid as other casual tutors and were seen as well contributors rather than being in the sick role. Professional tutors were aware of the consumer tutor teaching and perhaps viewed it as 'politically correct' rather than educationally effective. Dissemination of findings via service and conference presentations has helped address this common view.
Tutoring medical students is a skilful and potentially stressful role, and is not suitable for all mental health consumers. Following the training program some trained tutors realised that teaching was not their interest or strength (a proportion of whom did not teach at all). This was anticipated and should be factored into training plans. Some consumer tutors realised their tolerance level was insufficient to manage student junior skill level and found it hard to resist retelling their 'war stories' of difficult clinical encounters. This was a common theme in debriefing and required active refocusing on the curriculum of effective and ineffective interview techniques. The occasional protesting student required gentle persuasion to see that ongoing participation was a way of exploring contact with consumers. Like most education programs this approach did not run itself. Tutors required sustenance; feedback needed action and materials needed review. New tutors needed to be trained to add to the growing pool of available people. Despite these issues, our experience was that this was manageable and in keeping with maintenance of quality teaching by professional tutors.
We believe this model is another valuable option in a range of consumer involvement programs and could be replicated in health, emergency services and support agency education. Discussions have occurred with carers about possible involvement. At this stage it was decided to invite carers to speak about specific topics in the mainstream program as consumers see their expertise as fundamentally different to that of a carer. Despite the potential for use with other groups, our attempt to use this experience in refreshing interview skills in general practitioners was unsuccessful. Notwithstanding the diligent work by all parties, local general practitioners held fast to the view that consumer tutors would lack the emotional robustness to survive teaching. They were welcome to come and talk of their experience but were not seen as competent to deliver a curriculum. This may well have been shorthand for more complex issues of concerns about confidentiality, power and autonomy. This example reminds us, however, that health education is in change and that new strategies are required to engage today's students in experiences that will produce clinicians skilled to support effective consumer participation in healthcare.