The importance of volunteer patients

The patient volunteers attended a presentation and "thank you" afternoon tea during National Volunteer Week volunteer patient, medical student, clinical skills, training, learning (l-r) Volunteer patients Mr Mac Maculan and Ms Josephine Kulesz; Dr Janis Pitt (Academic Coordinator for Phase 1 Clinical Skills) and student Sarah Fan Professor Paul Fitzgerald, Director School of Medicine and Psychology, addresses the volunteers
15 June 2023

If you have ever wondered how medical students learn the skills to physically examine and communicate effectively with patients, wonder no more.

Thanks to the generosity of volunteer patients, medical students at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Medicine and Psychology are able to improve their skills in physical examination, communication, and building a rapport with the patient.

Mr Alastair Walters, Senior Clinical Skills Coordinator, who manages the program explained, “Volunteers participate in physical examinations that include checking vital signs, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, ears, nose, lymph, thyroid, muscles and bones.”

“They are a very committed group of people who fully understand the importance of having well trained and well prepared medical students.  It’s an honour for me to manage their involvement in the program and it was lovely to celebrate and thank them during an event we ran during National Volunteer Week in May,” Mr Walters added.

Second year medical student, Sarah Fan, views the service that volunteer patients provide as invaluable.

“The volunteers selflessly takes time out of their busy schedules to help us to become better doctors. Interacting with them is a constant reminder of the true purpose of this profession, and the reason many of us join the profession in the first place - to work with and support members of the community. We appreciate that they are also giving their time to support the future medical community,” Ms Fan said.

Ms Fan added, “Chatting and learning from the volunteers offers a less pressured environment compared to seeing patients in a real-life clinical setting. This allows us to slow down our approach and gather knowledge in a different way.”

Mr Mac Maculan a former employee of the Commonwealth Department of Health and current volunteer patient explained, “My job always involved working with medical officers. I came to value and respect the medical profession for its contribution to the Australian way of life and when the opportunity arose to be involved in some small way in the training of new medical practitioners it was too good an opportunity to miss.”

He added, “Volunteering gives me personal satisfaction.  I enjoy encountering former medical students who are now doctors and are also giving back to the next cohort of medical students through roles as tutors or examiners for the ANU students. My enjoyment is also enhanced by the staff within the School of Medicine and Psychology who are always appreciative and pleasant.”

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer patient please contact: or call the Clinical Skills Team on 5124 2730 or 5124 3389.