Family Centered Experience Program

“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; it’s an invaluable teaching tool.” – Jennifer Joyce, MD, program director

The Family Centered Experience (FCE) program is an important part of Geisinger Commonwealth’s patient-centered community-based curriculum. Each year during the community week experience first and second year medical students spend one-week sessions living and working in a regional campus full time to learn the value of community involvement in health care. Family Centered Experience volunteers are an important resource for medical students and their education. The goal of the FCE program is for the medical student to learn the human aspect and personal family experiences that arise from managing a chronic, serious illness, or disability. Families that volunteer share their medical history and healthcare experiences with Geisinger Commonwealth students to provide invaluable training that cannot be taught in a classroom setting.

How the Family Centered Experience 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 coordinator contacts the volunteer and shares information about the matched students and invites the family to a welcome event in each region where everyone is introduced. 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 one’s sense of self, one’s 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 health care 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; it’s an invaluable teaching tool.


This video about the Family Centered Experience (FCE) 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 contributing to their education. The FCE program at Geisinger Commonwealth is unique in its regional representation.