Delivering medical education in a changing world

Medical care is changing. It is obvious to us all – from our experiences at the GP or our local hospital, to what we see on television. Our discipline has always been dynamic, but new knowledge, technology and drugs are changing the practice of medicine at an ever-increasing rate. While this presents many benefits for us as consumers of healthcare, it poses considerable challenges for many others.

Paying for this increasingly sophisticated healthcare is an issue for government. Keeping up-to-date is a test for all medical practitioners. But spare a thought for those charged with teaching and assessing the next generation of doctors. What do they need to know now to help them manage the rapidly changing medical world they will enter? What skills and attributes will they need to respond nimbly to the challenges of the future?

Professor Nick Hawkins

Professor Nick Hawkins

As Professor Nick Hawkins explains, these are some of the issues being explored by UQ’s newly-formed Office of Medical Education (OME). “Curriculum means not just what is taught, but how and when it is taught – and of course how it is assessed. Each aspect presents challenges and opportunities,” says Professor Hawkins.

“Anyone who has practised medicine will tell you what all doctors must know, but there is rarely agreement on exactly what that is. Neither will there be sufficient attention to what our graduates will need to know when they begin unsupervised practice in earnest – five to ten years from now.”

Professor Nick Hawkins
So, deciding on what to teach is always a challenge. With the growth of knowledge, figuring out what not to teach can be even harder.

In a world where methods of knowledge delivery are constantly changing – along with student expectations – an equally important challenge is determining how to teach.

Professor Hawkins highlights the changing landscape of the lecture theatre. “The 50-minute lecture is still a staple for university teachers, but less so for students who now see knowledge transfer as something for the internet and cloud-based knowledge repositories. For them, classes are a place for active and engaging learning – through case-based tutorials with experienced facilitators, and real-world experiences in clinical settings with patients and clinicians.”

As the founding Director of the OME, Professor Hawkins sees meeting these demands requires ongoing attention. “While medicine is blessed by having wonderful learning activities available at our clinical sites, changing patterns of patient care are also impacting on those great institutions of medical education.

“Assessment is always a challenge, particularly in terms of maintaining consistency across UQ Medicine’s vast geographic footprint, while still ensuring critical input from local supervisors and teachers. Here, as with knowledge delivery, technology offers great hope for improved efficiency and reproducibility of assessment."

Professor Nick Hawkins

Professor Hawkins says the OME – a relatively small academic unit based at Herston, reporting directly to the Medical Dean – exists to meet those challenges. “The Office of Medical Education was established to describe a blueprint for learning that will allow our graduates to be effective practitioners in the future world of medicine, and to ensure through the creation of effective assessments that they will meet the expectations of our community.

“However, the OME is just one part of a complex network of academics, professional and technical staff, academic title holders and clinicians – all engaged in the enterprise of teaching our medical students. Our key role is to coordinate that network to maximise the effectiveness of everyone in it.”