Nomenclature of real patients in health professional education by role and engagement: a narrative literature review


  • Isabelle Burnier Université Ottawa
  • Grace Northrop University of Ottawa
  • Salomon Fotsing University of Ottawa



Research problem: Real patients living with a disease and engaged in the education of healthcare professionals are referred to by different terms. To address this, A.Towle proposed a draft taxonomy.

Objective: Our objective is to extract from the literature the definitions given for the following terms: (1) patient educator, (2) patient instructor, (3) patient mentor, (4) partner patient, (5) patient teacher, (6) Volunteer Patient in order to clearly identify their roles and level of engagement.

Methods: The literature search was carried out in Medline, CINAHL, PsychInfo and Eric by adding medical education or healthcare professional to our previously identified keywords to ensure that it is indeed literature dealing with real patients’ involvement in the education of healthcare professionals. 

Results: Certain terms refer to real and simulated patients. Roles are more or less well described but may refer to multiple terms. The notion of engagement is discussed, but not specifically. 

Conclusion: Explicitly defining the terms used according to the task descriptions and level of engagement would help contribute to Towle’s taxonomy. Real patients would thus feel more legitimately involved in health professional education.

Author Biographies

Isabelle Burnier, Université Ottawa

Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine,Faculty of Medicine ,University of Ottawa 

Co-Director of the Pre-clerkship - Francophone Stream
Director of Clinical Skills - Francophone Stream

Grace Northrop, University of Ottawa

Faculty of Medicine, MD candidate

Salomon Fotsing, University of Ottawa

Medical pedagogy manager

Francophone Affairs, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa ON, Canada


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How to Cite

Burnier I, Northrop G, Fotsing S. Nomenclature of real patients in health professional education by role and engagement: a narrative literature review. Can. Med. Ed. J [Internet]. 2022 Aug. 13 [cited 2022 Sep. 29];13(5):69-76. Available from:



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