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UCL Medical School welcomes new Director Dr Faye Gishen

7 May 2021

Dr Faye Gishen is a clinical academic; a medical educator and consultant physician. As Faye takes over as interim Director of UCLMS, we took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her new role and priorities for the Medical School.

Dr Faye Gishen

Dr Gishen is a Doctor of Medicine and a Doctor of Education (having completed her EdD at UCL). She has been awarded three UCL Provost Awards across three domains, most notably the 2020 Inaugural Provost Team Award for Embedding Equality, Diversity & Inclusion. She contributes to departmental research and international consultancy activities.  

Congratulations on your appointment! Can you tell us a bit more about your journey leading up to this?

“I’m a London graduate myself and continued to work in London after medical school. It was in 2007, when I was a registrar in palliative medicine, that I met Deborah Gill. She spotted my interest in medical education, and encouraged me to join UCLMS as a clinical and professional practice tutor. Since that time, I’ve held several different roles, the most recent of which was as Deborah’s deputy for the MBBS.” 

What attracted you to taking over the Director post?

“I was honoured and delighted to be asked as it’s an incredible opportunity. There are lots of different ways of measuring success in medical education, but whichever metrics we choose, there’s no doubt UCLMS is an amazing medical school! We're home to the MBBS programme of course, but within the Division we also have a research department, a post graduate department and a medical school education consultancy, all doing fantastic work. So the job is very diverse. There are also national and international opportunities that come with being a director of a medical school."

Do you have any specific priorities for the Medical School under your leadership?

“This has been a tumultuous year, there has been so much disruption throughout society. It has brought to the fore a number of areas we need to focus on - things that cut across the School as a whole. We have a strong drive on our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy. The aims of that, for me are to make students and staff feel comfortable here, and importantly, to set up a culture that supports our students, so that they are set up to practise as doctors and serve patients in the best way they can. Student experience is key.

And we're always looking at keeping our curriculum and modes of delivery of the curriculum, up to date. During the pandemic things have been radically disrupted, and we find ourselves delivering medical education in a different way, and some of these changes will remain. Linked to the curriculum - and a crucial area of focus overall - is sustainability. Part of that is about equipping our students to be able to practise medicine in a sustainable way. This is a global imperative; the climate emergency paired with the health emergency, is extremely important for future doctors to appreciate.”

What do you think is special and/or unique about the training that UCL medical students receive here at UCL?

"Although not unique, there are elements of our programme that make us stand out, including whole-body dissection and use of cadavers, which is a privilege. And for the undergraduates, we have a mandatory integrated BSc year. We also incorporate some student-selected components. But I think it’s broader than that, it’s also about being in London - a global hub and, in my view, the world’s most remarkable city. London is amazingly multicultural and diverse. So, our students experience that diversity: as part of the student community and working with staff and patient populations. It’s an ideal training ground for medicine. There are lots of terrific cities, but London can't be topped - it's not perfect and it's not always an easy place to live and work in, but it's just magic!

I also think we teach a balanced curriculum; medicine is not just about the technical skills and ‘hard science’ but also professional skills and values. I recently overheard two clinical colleagues on the wards saying “‘I bet that was a UCL medical student’". I asked them why, and they said it was because the student communicated in a very caring and compassionate way with patients.  Of course, we don't have a monopoly on that, but there is a real onus on teaching a wide range of skills here and I’m proud of our staff and students."

You have introduced and developed landmark MBBS teaching initiatives e.g. the Curriculum Map and reflective practice Schwartz Rounds. Can you tell us more about this?

“I’m interested in interpersonal skills i.e., communication, empathy, leadership - qualities that are often termed ‘soft skills,’ but I do object to that label because they are, paradoxically, the hard skills. So, thinking about communication in a clinical setting – interpreting non-verbal cues and understanding what a patient wants – these skills are complex and sophisticated. This is part of the ‘art’ of being a doctor. Medicine is about science, but also about art. As a palliative care physician who deals with suffering, the so-called ‘soft skills are absolutely critical to my practice.

Schwartz Rounds are confidential reflective practice rounds that were brought from the Schwartz Centre for Compassionate Healthcare in Boston, to the UK in 2010. I became involved through the Royal Free, which was one of the pilot sites introducing the rounds in the UK. I noticed that medical students didn't really attend, and when they did, they usually didn't feel bold enough to contribute to the conversation. But medical students are subject to the same emotions and demands of witnessing suffering, that qualified healthcare professionals are. So, in 2014, I was awarded a Health Education England grant to introduce dedicated Schwartz Rounds for medical students at UCL. It was quite a daring thing to do because it had never been done for healthcare learners anywhere in the world. It has been a very successful initiative and many medical, dental and nursing schools have since followed our lead. Over the past seven years, hundreds of UCL medical students have experienced Schwartz Rounds, and we've listened to their feedback. Evidence shows that good quality, meaningful reflection and debriefing about complex clinical scenarios, can improve patient care. I hope that experiencing these Rounds and other reflective opportunities, can instill lifelong reflective habits to serve students and doctors through our professional careers.

Many of our medical students have been volunteering during COVID and we've run dedicated Schwartz Rounds about how it feels to be catapulted into working in a pandemic when you're a medical student. The confidential stories were incredible and humbling.

The MBBS Curriculum Map was a huge undertaking. The catalyst for this was our medical students saying that they weren't clear about our syllabus and what we would assess them on. So, we undertook an 18- month project to review our teaching and learning objectives and programme content, and developed a curriculum map, which is essentially an electronic syllabus for our MBBS students. It's not perfect, and not a complete ‘UCLMS Textbook’, but it is a big step forward and helps ‘level the playing field’. Our students, particularly in the clinical years, do like it as a frame to guide their learning.”

What advice would you give students who are thinking about embarking on a medical career?

“I would say that medicine is a demanding job- physically, emotionally and at times, socially. However, it's brilliant. And it's incredibly stimulating and diverse! The myriad of opportunities in medicine mean that you can have a portfolio career - I've chosen to combine clinical work with medical education, but others choose research or management. So I would say it's hard but it's nourishing. And it's a privilege to work with patients."

Do you have an outstanding memory from your days as a medical school student?

"One of the unexpected things I remember was sitting in a lab when the person leading the lecture started handing round some equipment and said “'turn to the person next to you and take blood from them.'” With a beating heart, I turned to my housemate (who I'm still friendly with!) and took blood from her and she took blood from me. It was quite a moment - one of those where you think ‘yes, I can do this!’ I also remember meeting patients for the first time and being incredibly nervous, but then slowly gaining the confidence and skills to interact with and ultimately treat people. But it was scary at first."

You have just recently completed your Doctor of Education (EdD) here at UCL’s Institute of Education. What was it like being student again?

I very much enjoyed studying again! Coming late to doctoral work in my forties was challenging and I had to be disciplined as it wasn’t easy to fit around work and family life (I have three children). I wrote up most of my thesis during the pandemic, but luckily, I had great support from my colleagues."

And finally, how would your colleagues describe you?

When I asked my longstanding clinical colleagues for a few adjectives they would use for me, they came back with: candid, open-minded, sincere, kind and encouraging. One of them added ‘alert,’ I’m not quite sure what to make of that one! I try to treat people how I would like to be treated. That’s what my parents (a doctor and a teacher- a good combination for producing a future clinician educator!) taught me."

Dr Faye Gishen takes over as Interim Director of UCL Medical School, following Dr Deborah Gill leaving to become Vice Provost for Education and Student Experience across UCL.


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