In Focus: Young voices, big impact

By Amanda Lee, Writer, Communications & Outreach

Are there any replacements for clinical postings?”

“When will clinical postings resume?”

“What is going to happen now?” 
These were some questions LKCMedicine students – particularly those in Years 3 to 5 – had after they were informed that clinical postings were suspended until further notice. The move came shortly after the Singapore Government raised the nation’s alert level to Orange on February 7, in response to the worsening outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Within days, the School implemented a series of alternative teaching methods – from expanded simulations to the rollout of remote digital technologies for classroom-based teaching. In addition to the School’s faculty and staff, senior students also stepped in to assist.  

LKCMedicine Students’ Medical Society (LKCMedSoc) President Ashwin S/O Singaram said student leaders from the society regularly meet with the faculty to discuss the COVID-19 situation and how it affects students’ learning.

The MedSoc, whose members represent the wider student community, has been able to extend this support to students right from the start because the student body relied on existing feedback mechanisms that the School instituted at its founding. 

The seventh LKCMedSoc represents the needs and interests of LKCMedicine students

When the medical school was nothing more than plans on paper, the School’s leadership team discussed as many as 34 policy areas that govern quality, student matters, governance and other aspects that support the academic mission of the School. All of which had to be drafted and agreed on by the parent universities – NTU and Imperial College London. Among these was the role students should play in the governance of the curriculum. 

Passed by the NTU Senate in February 2012, LKCMedicine’s student governance policy entrusts students with the responsibility to help refine processes and programmes through student representation in school committees such as the Student Wellbeing Committee and Medical Education Committee. It is the role of LKCMedSoc members, including Year Reps, to represent the student body and support their needs and interests. 

One of the issues that was resolved through this mechanism, for example, was attendance taking. Students are expected to register their attendance through the student portal for all lessons. The system initially only allowed students to register before the session started. Those who forgot were automatically marked absent. 

The LKCMedSoc Executive Committee and Year Reps gathered feedback on a compromise solution without making the system vulnerable to abuse. Following discussion with the School’s leadership and administrators, the system was changed to allow students to register their attendance up until an hour after the lesson has ended. 

“We feel that our opinions are important and that improving the School is a shared process which then motivates us to provide even more feedback to make the programme even better for our juniors,” said Ashwin. 

As well as the School-wide medical society, students are supported by their Year Reps, who handle administrative- and academic-related concerns for their respective batches. For example, Year 1 and 2 Reps look into matters such as the scheduling of buses that ferry students between hostels at NTU and LKCMedicine’s dual campus. They also ensure enough buses ply the route during peak hours.

They also play an important role in ensuring that the MBBS programme is carried out smoothly, particularly in the current situation. 

For instance, the Year Reps now survey their batches more frequently to identify early any issues and concerns with the alternative learning measures implemented by the School. Among them are e-Team Based Learning (e-TBL), Zoom tutorials and Google Classroom tasks. The Year Reps feedback to faculty during meetings held every fortnight at least and share any worries their batchmates might have. 

This is a step-up from what the Year Reps normally do as they usually collate feedback from their batchmates only about three times a year.  

Making their voices heard
So when clinical postings were suspended, the LKCMedSoc relied on existing channels to clarify students’ concerns.

“These concerns were brought up to the faculty, who reassured us that they were exploring various options to possibly make up for the lost clinical exposure once the COVID-19 situation resolves,” said Ashwin. “Students appreciate the open line of communication that we have to voice our concerns and are incredibly appreciative of how swiftly measures were put in place to keep things running as smoothly as possible.”

At least every two weeks, Year 1 Rep Hor Jun Ying said that the School’s faculty highlight the latest precautionary measures taken by NTU and update them about teaching plans. The Year Reps then disseminate information to their respective cohort, said Jun Ying. 

He also pointed out that the School’s faculty address students’ concerns regarding changes in the curriculum and postponement of certain extra-curricular activities, such as the Overseas Community Involvement Projects. 

Having open lines of communication is more important than ever during times of crisis. With the robust student oversight system in place, students were not left second-guessing the School’s academic plans.  

Year 4 Rep Jonathan Loke said, “With so much uncertainty now, communication between faculty, clinical leads and students has become very important. Schedules are constantly changing, questions and doubts are always being raised, and doctors are actively seeking out feedback to improve tutorials and Zoom sessions. Students from the different streams have stepped up, acting as a bridge between the faculty and students, juggling many administrative tasks to ensure lessons are able to carry on smoothly.”

His junior Year 2 Rep Zou Tangming said that students have been receiving updates from the School through weekly emails from the School’s Vice-Dean for Education, Professor Naomi Low-Beer. These emails provide an opportunity to raise concerns and provide feedback to the new lesson format, whether that is e-TBL or replacement simulations instead of ward-based practice. 

“The curriculum team has responded to feedback through emails and by making additional changes to subsequent lessons,” he added. 

During this time of crisis, the LKCMedSoc does not just flag concerns or highlight challenges. The student body proactively reached out to faculty to discuss how they can support the roll-out of the modified teaching sessions and supplement learning for the juniors in the School. 

For instance, Year 5 students are conducting small group tutorials on topics the Year 3 students are unclear about and provide practice Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) cases for the juniors to hone their skills. 

The COVID-19 outbreak may have affected how some lessons are conducted at LKCMedicine. However, the School, with the support of the student body has been going strong. 

As Ashwin aptly put it, “We are already a tight-knit student community, but I am immensely proud of how the student body has pulled together to support one another during this tumultuous time. No matter how difficult this period gets, I am confident that we will pull through this together and come out stronger!”