Getting to Know You – Finding out who’s who in the Edinburgh Medical School

two students talk in a labAt Edinburgh we want our students to have the best experience possible. An important part of a great student experience is being (and feeling) part of a community. Our university is the 10th largest in the UK, but our low student-staff ratio is one of the reasons that we’re consistently ranked as one of the world’s top 50 universities. Nevertheless, for undergraduate students, small class sizes in a large university can still mean that there’s lots of staff they don’t know, and sometimes it’s hard to feel part of a community.

Developing a strong sense of community is something that is really important to us in the medical school. We may have around 1500 undergraduate students and over 1000 staff, but we want everyone to genuinely feel part of the medical school, not just by knowing their PT and a handful of lecturers and tutors, but by knowing a number of other members of staff that they can say hello to (or perhaps even approach for advice at some point). We also want the students and staff to have an understanding of who does what and how the organisational structure of the medical school works.

a group of students and a lecturer chat
Photo credit: Lorraine Close

I’m currently running a project in the medical school to do just that. The end goal of the project is to create an enormous digital organisational chart on a large touchscreen that will sit in the Chancellor’s Building (medical school) foyer. The chart will include photos/videos and short bios of everyone who is involved in the MBChB programme. Rather than simply create more information for the students to look at, the students will be encouraged to go out and collect the information that will eventually make up the interactive organisational chart.

We’ve asked the medical students to approach their teachers by following these simple steps:
1. Follow edinburghmedicalschool on Instagram
2. Track down a member of staff and ask them if you can take a photo, or a short video if they are keen
3. Pen their profile: Name, MBChB job title, brief light hearted bio and top tip. (75 word maximum bio)
4. Post the picture and mini profile on Instagram using #mbchbteachers or email to Debbie Aitken

How are we getting the students to do this? We’ve made it into a competition so that profiles mean prizes! We’re going to be giving away vouchers but also Edinburgh Medical School hoodies which we hope will further contribute to the students’ sense of being part of a distinct community within the wider university.

Although it’s only week 2 of the new academic year, we’ve received quite a few profiles from students and I know lots of staff members have had more enthusiastic students than usual approach them for a friendly chat about what they do. My role in staff development means that I’m not just interested in the student experience, but the staff experience too. I’m delighted (and relieved) to report that although our staff members are very busy, they are really enjoying the chance to speak to the students informally, and eager to get a better sense of how they fit in to the organisational structure of our school.

More information about the project can be found on our website.

Debbie Aitken

Debbie Aitken is the Director of the Clinical Educator Programme and a Senior Fellow in Medical Education in the Centre for Medical Education. Debbie is also currently completing part-time doctoral research on generational differences in teaching and learning in surgery at the University of Cambridge.

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