small microscope

Patient as Teacher Description

At one time, patients were a primary source of learning. Sir William Osler wrote in the 19th century, “To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, whilst to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all…”

Since the 1970s and with the expansion of technology, most clinical teaching moved into the conference room. This is unfortunate because patients and their family members can be highly effective teachers. They talk about symptoms, their diagnostic odysseys, about living with their diseases, and about feeling isolated. They recall the challenges of navigating a complex medical system. Whereas doctors lecture about facts and describe clinical cases, patients and families have lived an often-poignant narrative, and the research is clear - storytelling is a very effective teaching tool.  People remember stories better than they do facts.

VMP Genetics believes that clinicians are more likely to recognize a patient with a metabolic disorder if they have already seen or heard about such a case before.

A typical Patient as Teacher Forum lasts about sixty minutes. A metabolic clinician leads off the hour with a clinical overview of the condition to be discussed; this provides the audience with a medical foundation to better understand what the patient is talking about. The patient presentation then follows. The session ends with a Q&A period.

Patient as Teacher Forums have occurred successfully in any number of venues - Grand Rounds, Case of the Week Rounds, Professor’s Rounds, Departmental Rounds, and in medical school and graduate biochemistry courses. They are among the most highly rated teaching sessions by medical and graduate students.


Dr. Korson piloted the first annual Rare Disease Day Speaker Series in New England on behalf of Rare New England ( The series included the following forums (topics in parentheses):

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH (Barth syndrome)
  • Yale-New Haven Medical Center, New Haven, CT (erythropoietic protoporphyria)
  • University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington, VT (acute intermittent porphyria)
  • Boston University School of Medicine Genetic Counseling Program, Boston, MA (Fabry disease)
  • Brandeis University Genetic Counseling Program, Waltham, MA (Barth syndrome)
  • Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Newton, MA (Hurler syndrome)


In order to put the "Human" back into Biochemistry, Dr. Korson has been bringing patients into the medical school classroom since 2003. This approach has become a regular part of the curriculum at Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Medicine.

  • Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA
  • Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA
  • Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA
  • Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA


  • Phenylketonuria
  • Glycogen storage disease type I
  • Very long chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase deficiency
  • Argininosuccinic acid lyase deficiency
  • Mitochondrial Disease