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Med student with regular patient

Family-Centered Experience (FCE)

“Families that volunteer for the Family-Centered Experience (FCE) program find the experience to be extremely rewarding. They have a direct influence on educating tomorrow’s doctors by sharing their experiences; it’s an invaluable teaching tool.”
– Carly Ellman MSW, LCSW, FCE, Program Director

At Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, students spend time with real patients right away. Through our FCE program, students take a break from studying anatomy, physiology and molecular biology to meet with their assigned family – community volunteers who agree to allow medical students into their lives to be up-close witnesses to what it’s like for a family to cope with chronic and debilitating illness. Students forge close bonds with their families and often accompany them to various appointments to see firsthand how fragmentation and communication barriers in the health system can impact well-being. Experiencing medicine from the patient’s point of view is a life-altering experience and is an essential piece of learning to put patients at the center of healthcare.

Maintaining safety and well-being during COVID-19

As we navigate through COVID-19, your safety and well-being remain our top priorities. To keep everyone safe and healthy and meet the needs of community members and our students, meetings with students will be conducted by following state and federal guidelines. The use of phone calls and video chats will be used as alternative options for in-person visits. 

How FCE works

Each volunteer family is matched with two first-year medical students at the beginning of the academic year and the matched students will follow the volunteer family throughout the next two years. Geisinger Commonwealth’s FCE regional program liaison contacts the volunteer and shares information about the matched students. Following the welcome reception, the students contact their assigned family and determine when and where to meet. Generally, students meet with their assigned volunteer family in the volunteer’s home. Students meet with the volunteer family during each designated community week. During each visit, students come prepared to ask specific questions about the volunteer’s illness and how it has impacted various aspects of their life and the lives of their family. Following the family visits, students meet with their peers and faculty members at Geisinger Commonwealth in small group sessions to discuss (in confidence) what they have learned from their family-centered experience. Volunteer confidentiality is very important to Geisinger Commonwealth faculty, students and staff. Students share their experiences in a confidential learning environment that respects the volunteer’s privacy.

Through the FCE, medical students learn:

  • The impact of illness on a person’s sense of self and his or her relationship with family and friends, the environment, activities and future goals and aspirations
  • The influence doctors have on the way patients view themselves and their condition
  • How beliefs and assumptions of healthcare providers and society affect an individual’s medical condition, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, national origin, language spoken, appearance and other social statuses
  • How patients have received life-changing health news and how it can be delivered in the best possible manner
  • How to incorporate patients’ previous experiences into a medical practice that can be characterized as family-centered and values dignity, respect, information sharing, participation and collaboration
  • Respect for the volunteer family’s values and rights to privacy

Why we need you

The experience of meeting patients, families and caregivers with chronic illness or disability is eye-opening for students. Students learn about disease processes through textbooks and lectures, but watching how patients deal with real-life circumstances to cope with chronic illness can change the way a student approaches a patient they meet during clinical training. Families that volunteer for the FCE program find the experience to be extremely rewarding. They have a direct influence on educating tomorrow’s doctors by sharing their experiences. Apply here!


“If doctors coming out of medical school knew the issues patients actually deal with, it would change the whole face of medicine.”
– Karen Pyros, family volunteer

“FCE is an important part of Geisinger Commonwealth medical students’ education. It’s not the kind of learning they’ll get in a textbook. One thing you don’t plan for is a devastating illness — that’s true of everyone, so it’s important for doctors to maintain that empathy and compassion. To me, that’s what the family-centered experience means.”
– Pauline DiMattia, family volunteer

“During community weeks I learned how important it is for doctors to know all about the resources available to their patients. My volunteer family included a member with dementia. Before they knew about community resources, it was a struggle to care for their loved one. Accessing resources made a huge difference for them.”
– Rebecca Thiel, MD Class of 2021

"The FCE program was life-changing. I got to see, through the eyes of a woman coping with a chronic and devastating illness, how important it is to see the person first, not the disease. The experience showed me the kind of physician I want to be.”
– Mike Rotstein, MD Class of 2020

“The family was incredibly responsive and helpful throughout our visits. They had a lot to discuss regarding interactions with the healthcare system, and I felt the experience was both enlightening and enriching.”
– Ananya Chandra, MD Class of 2022

“The FCE program far exceeded my expectations.  It has been a unique, eye-opening addition to my medical school experience that I know I will surely miss moving forward.  My FCE family took me in with open arms and made me feel like family in their own home.   I will take the memories with me forever.”
– Andrea M. Nale, MD Class of 2022 

The video below illustrates the positive outcomes of pairing students with families in the region. Students gain insight into the challenges families face while dealing with chronic illness and families gain a better understanding of the challenges students face during medical school while also contributing to their education. The FCE program at Geisinger Commonwealth is unique in its regional representation.


FCE Volunteer Family update

Our newsletter provides information on Geisinger Commonwealth’s Family-Centered Experience.

Contact us

Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine
Family-Centered Experience
Medical Sciences Building
Regional Campus Office
525 Pine St.
Scranton, PA 18509
Fax:  570-504-9636

Carly Ellman MSW, LCSW
Program Director, Family-Centered Experience
Assistant Professor of Medicine

Sharon Myers
Program Liaison, Family-Centered Experience, North Campus