A STUDENT at a Scottish university will graduate with a master’s degree this month, eight years after life-threatening injuries led to multiple disabilities.
Lynn Ashdown had just completed her final exams at the University of Dundee to become a Consultant Physician in Family Medicine when she suddenly collapsed from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
Lynn, from Ottawa, Canada, suffered head trauma, broke his neck and suffered spinal cord injuries in addition to cardiac arrest.
Doctors managed to save Lynn’s life, but when she came out of a coma she was told she might have minimal speech and there was a possibility of quadriplegia.
Lynn’s next months were spent in intensive care and she remained in hospital for over two years, struggling to overcome the initial prognosis.
She slowly learned to speak again and can now use a manual wheelchair, but remains cognitively impaired.
She can no longer drive and will still need significant medical and social support to live in the community.
Lynn’s experiences made her determined to change the medical profession for the better.
Before the life-changing incident, Lynn had decided to combine her clinical practice with medical education and had taken certificate and diploma courses on the subject in Dundee as a distance learner.
Her relationship with the University continued, and with the support of the Continuing Medical Education program, Lynn was able to return to her studies.
Lynn says her goal was to finish what she started, while simultaneously using this challenge to further rehabilitate her brain injury.
Lynn has since earned her Masters in Medical Education and also earned honors for her dissertation, which explores what she hadn’t learned about medical practice as a student, resident or physician, but discovered as a patient. .
She plans to use her lived experience of this dual purpose role as physician and patient to enhance medical education.
“I had to come back from nothing after my accident,” Lynn explained.
“It’s been eight long years as I had to relearn how to speak and adjust to not being able to walk and being in a wheelchair.
“I had a fantastic medical education, but my experiences have taught me that the human element is missing from the theoretical skills we learn about how to diagnose and treat.
“We don’t include patients in medical education at all.
“It took me a while to accept that I will not return to clinical practice, but what I want to do now is improve the patient experience in all areas of healthcare.
“Everything we do in medicine exists for the patient, but he often doesn’t have a voice.
“Listening to patients can make the difference between a positive outcome and a negative outcome.
“My research highlights the difference between intellectual and experiential knowledge and challenges medical education to harness the expertise that patients possess.
“That lifeless fall taught me the power of patient expertise and how patients teach us more than we understand.”
Lynn aims to continue her research and activism after graduation, which she will not be able to attend in person due to her complex health needs.
She’s working on a book based on her thesis and wants to serve as an example of how disability doesn’t stop people from pursuing their dreams.
Its aim is to make the voice of patients heard and to demonstrate how doctors who become patients can contribute to the training of doctors of tomorrow, and
She also wants to highlight how the expertise of all patients can be used to transform medical education.
“If I’m being honest, I would still choose to go back to my old life if I could, but maybe that will change over time,” she continued.
“That said, I know I have to make the most of what’s happened to help others. That’s why I strive to use my story for a greater good.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my supervisor, Dr. Linda Jones, and everyone else at the University’s Center for Medical Education.
“It would have been very easy for them to just fire me, but they really understood my situation and were willing to work with me and accommodate the limitations resulting from my brain injury.”