Imperial Connection: The science of performing arts: Where singing meets surgery

By Dr Sam Gallivan, Deputy Academic Lead (Collaborative Partnerships), Imperial College LondonBy Dr Sam Gallivan, Deputy Academic Lead (Collaborative Partnerships), Imperial College London

In June 2021, participants from around the world took part in the latest Digital Transform MedEd online seminar. These innovative online workshops are jointly hosted by LKCMedicine and Imperial College London academics until the next in-person Transform MedEd conference in London to be held in November next year.

In this most recent workshop, researchers from Imperial and the Royal College of Music presented an interactive activity exploring how simulation science can support students of surgery and music. Simulation is widely used in medical education to practise technical and teamworking skills, and simulation labs such as LKCMedicine’s cutting-edge Centre for Clinical Simulation have been vital in sustaining medical education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education and Simulation Science at Imperial College London, has pioneered the use of immersive simulation to recreate the experience of taking part in an operation, including the sights, sounds and smells of clinical environments. This ‘Distributed Simulation’ is now used in many surgical training programmes and researchers at the Centre for Performance Science– a partnership between Imperial and the Royal College of Music, have used the same principles to model the stresses of performance on elite musicians. Dr Terry Clark and Dr Kirsten Dalrymple now use music performance and surgical simulators to explore the correspondences between surgery and musical expertise in their postgraduate teaching on the Master of Surgical Education programme at Imperial.

LKCMedicine-Imperial: Dr Dalrymple and Dr Clark Photo credit:  Thomas Angus, Imperial College London

In their June workshop, Dr Dalrymple and Dr Clark transformed their teaching to challenge the seminar participants to feel a little of the stresses of high-stakes performance through their computer screens. Just as a real-life singer would warm up before a concert, we were encouraged up onto our feet to take part in a series of vocal exercises– mercifully with microphones turned off, with tips on how to prepare ourselves for the performance. Following our warm-up, we broke into small online teams to get used to singing together and were then all reunited for a group performance of ‘There Once Was a Man named Michael Finnegan’ with singing and laughter echoing around our offices and homes through the internet. 

In the summary discussion, many participants reflected on the challenges of teamworking online and the hesitation they had at first at being asked to sing in public, drawing parallels between this experience and the past year of remote teaching and lecturing. The Digital Transform MedEd seminars have been a welcome opportunity for faculty and students from LKCMedicine and Imperial to continue to collaborate and we look forward to catching up in person in November next year.