article March 18, 2024

A deeper meaning: How the concept of “Patients as Partners” became more than my profession

Reflections from Javara Medical Director Colleen Tenan, MD

For over a decade, the Patients as Partners Conference has provided a unique opportunity to hear from pharma, R&D, FDA, and patient advocacy on how patient involvement is essential to accelerating drug development and driving more impactful clinical research outcomes.

While my passion for patient centricity began in medical school, as it does for many, my commitment to elevating the patient experience has both evolved and magnified with time. The meaning of “patients as partners” changed for me in 2022 when my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, and then again when I joined Javara as Medical Director and became fully immersed in the world of clinical research. Dedicating my work toward delivering care that relentlessly places the patient first is no longer only a passion, but also my purpose, both personally and professionally.

I am very excited about the opportunity to attend the Patients as Partners Conference for the first time later this week. As I look ahead to this year’s event, I’d like to share my personal reflections on what “patients as partners” means to me and how it relates to three distinct facets of my life. It is my hope that my story and experience may spark curiosity, compassion, and conversation as we delve together into the world of patients as partners.


The value of longitudinal patient relationships in Primary Care

Like most physicians, I decided to go into medicine because I wanted to treat and help patients. Throughout medical school and residency, our lectures and rounds were always focused on the patient. We could see how an individual disease was affecting our patients and their families, and how the prescribed treatment course would impact their everyday life. I chose to go into primary care because of the longitudinal relationships I would be able to form with the patients that I cared for. This remains one of the most rewarding decisions I made during my time as a practicing physician.


Understanding the magnitude of the patient experience

I stopped practicing medicine in 2022, when my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. In an instant, I went from being the physician rounding on patients at 6am, to the wife being woken up in the chair at the bedside to discuss that day’s plan for tests and procedures with the medical team. During this time, I developed an entirely new understanding of the constant anxiety, pain, and fatigue that is too often synonymous with being a patient. I watched my husband nod through countless agonizing appointments, knowing all too well the information being thrown at him was going way over his head. Despirate for answers I, despite my medical degree, turned to Dr. Google for both information and inspiration from other young cancer survivors. And while I did find the latter, what the internet could not provide us with was the care and guidance of a dedicated care team. My advice to you? Always trust your doctor; especially when you are most vulnerable.


How clinical research empowers patients and partnership

When my husband’s health improved, I was excited about the opportunity to serve as the medical director for Javara, although I was concerned that without an individual patient in front of me, the personalized care I was so passionate about would not be the priority. I was pleased to quickly discover that as an Integrated Research Organization, Javara’s model is centered around delivering clinical research as a care option (CRAACO), which naturally prioritizes the patient.

From reviewing protocols – to ensure they do not place an undue burden on patients – to guiding patients through the clinical trial process and seamlessly transitioning care back to the PCP to prioritize continuity of care, the patient experience is always at the forefront of our work at Javara. Our dedication to bringing clinical trials to the patients who need them most – at the most impactful point in their health journey – is what makes me most proud to represent Javara.


I share my story in advance of this year’s Patients as Partners Conference in hopes of sparking curiosity, compassion, and conversation. But I am even more excited about the opportunity to listen and learn from experts in the field of patient advocacy, including providers, patients, and other primary caregivers alike. I firmly believe that to develop the most impactful therapies for the patients we serve, we must first and foremost elevate the patient voice, and that requires sharing stories, experiences, and insights from all perspectives.