Third-year medical students have partnered with community, voluntary, health & social care leaders to respond to local needs in the era of COVID-19.
Twenty-five students from across the cohort volunteered to take part in the normally compulsory part of their degree. All have worked with their partner organisations remotely via video-conferencing.
Imperial's close connections with North West London healthcare commissioners and the community and voluntary sectors, meant students were well-placed to respond to needs and help build on assets identified by the local community and NHS leaders.
"Here medical students across the world have been able to come together and work with community leader to address pressing local needs." Dr Nina Dutta Course Lead
The seven different projects were ongoing over a period of ten weeks, and range from partners as varied as Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in the Community Trust to local community groups and voluntary organisations such as the Community Champions, Sobus, Healthy W12, the BME Health Forum and Healthwatch CWL.
Students taking part in the project also had the opportunity to discuss their plans with international thought leaders, and West London Health Partnership will consider funding promising projects.
Dr Nina Dutta, course lead in the School of the Public Health, said: "Our students have admirably risen to the challenge of identifying and addressing the needs of the College's local community. Although this term, currently a voluntary part of their programme, we've had a great response to the project.
"The undergraduate medicine MBBS course has had to shift to delivering education online response to the pandemic. This has posed challenges due to the inherent hands-on nature of healthcare, however the digital community action project has been a successful example of this transition. Here medical students across the world have been able to come together and work with community leader to address pressing local needs.
"We're looking forward to learning lessons from this experience, and hopefully being able to see all our students and community partners in person again soon."
Students tackle health and social inequalities
Presenting their projects remotely to their peers on 6 May, one student group's 'Community Action Project' (CAP) has built on past work by the Community Champions Programme and QPR in the Community Trust. The Programme's local expertise and the Trust's profile and social media reach were identified early on as great resources for driving the project forward.
"We're hoping that these resource packs help families to have some additional variety in their daily schedule. Many of the challenges involve getting more exercise, arts and crafts, or cooking." Lily Rietbergen MBBS student
The team planned to create and deliver resource packs for one hundred vulnerable families living in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The packs will provide items to support children and young people’s creativity and emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, including recipe books and exercise ideas, mental health support, mood journals and arts and crafts materials.
Lily Rietbergen, a student participant, said: "We're hoping that these resource packs help families to have some additional variety in their daily schedule. Many of the challenges involve getting more exercise, arts and crafts, or cooking."
A second student group planned to create accessible, captioned videos in multiple languages (Bangladeshi, Somali, and Arabic) to reassure communities in North West London that NHS services continue to be safe to use during the pandemic. Targeted especially at BME communities, the videos will be shared on social media platforms, particularly on WhatsApp and Facebook.
Abi Mahendran, a student participant, said: "With A&E attendance 30% lower than in normal times, and with 4% of Londoners not speaking English well, we knew this might be a useful project.
"We originally had a shortlist of languages we wanted our videos to be translated into, but we've found the communities we're working with are even more diverse and require additional translatations. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to put plans in place to publish even more videos."
All seven projects were taken forward owing to the College's commitment to continue delivering on its educational mission during the social distancing measures introduced in a number of other countries across the world.
Bethany Golding, Community Collaboration Lead, in the School of Public Health, said: "It has been really impressive to see how students and community leaders have come together under challenging circumstances to work on high-impact and targeted projects that will make a real difference.
"As a Faculty, and as an entire university community, we should be very proud of our students' engagement with a number of health and wellbeing issues that can be all too readily forgotten during a public health crisis."
The CAP module is just one of a number of learning experiences created by Imperial's Undergraduate Primary Care Team in the School of Public Health that are intended to encourage students to work together, engage with the communities they're living, studying and working in, and gain an authentic understanding of what it means to be a medic in the modern world.
Barbara Shelton, Project Manager at Addison Community Champions, said: "This is my third year of being involved with Imperial community projects. The students were wonderful. Many have never set foot in a community centre before and don't necessarily recognise what they're there for, so that learning experience is always useful.
"Especially in times like these the medical profession needs to recognise that community leaders are an asset. If students can have those interactions at this early stage of their career, it will change the way they view their communities forever.
"For our part as community partners, one of the biggest lessons we learn from the students is how to better showcase the work we do, and how we can tackle social inequalities together."
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