Near Future Teaching Focus Group: Medical Students

On one snowy day in April, when we finally were in a room together with 4 University of Edinburgh Medical Students, I felt that we had rounded up unicorns from a magical forest! That was how hard it was to track down these incredibly busy, mystical creatures. However, we finally managed to do it with the help of Tim Fawns from the NFT Task Group and Lydia Crow, MBChB Manager, to whom we are very grateful.

The session was led by NFT Research Associate Michael Gallagher and in attendance were four female medical students (one 4th year, one 2nd year and two 5th years) and the aforementioned Tim Fawns. It was a rich and intriguing conversation.

Michael began by asking the students about what technology they use in their studies. There was talk of how things were changing in the landscape of national exams and that students took part in PAL – Peer Assisted Learning. Someone mentioned the old adage, ‘see one, do, one, teach one’ and Tim said his opinion leaned more in the direction of, ‘see a million, do a million, teach one.’

CAL – computer assisted learning via videos and LEARN, the University’s online learning environment, were both cited. Apparently no one uses the LEARN discussion boards as there is no search bar, however it was mentioned that a student has invented a chrome extension that you can add to LEARN to make it searchable. Facebook is an active platform, and each year has their own group to which they are added to even before they start their degree. It is used as a notice board, for promoting events, for advice regarding revision and so on. People make friends on Facebook and these groups and networks carry on into professional networks beyond the University degree. It seemed to be useful to have separate channels – the formal LEARN and the social Facebook.

There was some conversation about digital technology and health data. An online medical informatics course had been offered but there was confusion from the start about it as students got the message they were required to take it (so everyone joined) and then that they were not (so most dropped out as they are so busy). It was hard for the students to understand the relevance of learning how to work with this type of information as they were under the impression that someone else would do this for them in future. The course seemed to focus on metadata not relevant to medicine; for instance, the examples given on the course were about finding composers of songs in music data. One of the students mentioned a non-mandatory Health Ethics course whose relevance did not become clear until later in the programme and the feeling seemed to be that the medical informatics, if designed to be more focussed on the needs of medical students, could be valuable if integrated appropriately into their programme rather than being an optional add on. One of the 5th year students mentioned a project she had been involved in where it would have been helpful for her to know how to code.

The students did admit that data literacy is a skill they are expected to have and that they hoped to see virtual reality being brought into the medical programme, and exploration of gamification so that this work could be social, competitive and engaged. Observing surgery in person can be so crowded that it is difficult to see properly, and you do not get to feel the actual procedures. Being able to explore this online, in detail – especially with haptic VR – could help with this problem.

Michael’s final question had to do with the students’ values around technology. They hoped that everyone would become more open-minded to technology as it leaves no stone in its path unturned. They wished that medical informatics could be integrated in such a way that students could see its value for them in future. One mentioned hackathons and said that this coming together of people from different backgrounds and professions can help students to understand how working with data and designers to build prototypes can be a brilliant way to learn – ‘it would be cool to incorporate this into the curriculum’, one of the students noted. PBL – problem based learning – is seen to be boring, just a reiteration of what is in a text book, whereas a hackathon would be more fun and also feel like real-world experience.

Finally, gamification was mentioned again and the idea of incorporating bots to do some of the work of doctors like taking history from patients, but the students still think that human contact between patients and doctors is vital.

With that, we sent the medical unicorns a.k.a. students back off into the snow with much thanks for their wisdom and the enthusiasm with which they shared their thoughts on these NFT topics.

Jennifer Williams

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  1. I am the Secretary to the Space Strategy Group at the University of Edinburgh. The Group’s purpose is to optimise the use and quality of space across the Estate through joined up working across the University community and, more specifically, to provide clear governance and oversight of teaching and learning spaces.

    If any of your project work aligns with the above purpose, please get in touch.

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