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The road towards digital education at the RSM

Education institutions the world over have had to re-think the way they deliver their programmes in the last year. For Professor Nik Patel* the road towards digital education at the RSM began in 2019 when he became Chairman of the Academic Board. Here he reports on the remarkable progress made by the Society since the onset of the pandemic, which puts it in prime position to help get education back on track for healthcare professionals after a year of lost teaching and learning opportunities.

Looking back to October 2019 when I took over the leadership of the RSM Academic Board, my aim was to engage with Section Presidents and their Councils to deliver the recently published Education Strategy. We needed to make our education future-proof by supporting digital learning and optimising our programmes to appeal to broader audiences.

Fast-forward to February 2021 and with over 330 Section webinars delivered to almost 60,000 delegates in the last year alone, it is clear that we have made enormous strides in achieving these aims. With the pandemic impacting on medical student and trainee education (follow this link for further commentary) the RSM was able to move swiftly to digital delivery, allowing us to better engage with our audiences and extend our reach.

A more accessible Academic Board

The pandemic also gave impetus to the changes needed in the way we ran the Academic Board to make it more accessible for Section Councils. We set time aside to talk to all our Sections, listening to their fears and aspirations for their education programmes. Of grave concern was the abrupt halt to trainee education brought about by Covid, resulting in service re-design and redeployment, something I have been involved with at my own trust and through my work as head of Health England Kent, Surrey and Sussex School of Medicine.

I know I speak on behalf of healthcare leaders throughout the country when I say how impressive it has been to see everyone coming together, removing barriers and working tirelessly as one to meet the huge challenges the pandemic has presented to the health service. But this has taken its toll and with our trainees still battling on the front line, there is a huge need for bespoke training to focus on areas where teaching opportunities have been lost.

This is where the RSM can step in, building on the enormous amount of work that has been undertaken by our Sections in the last 12 months to develop their digital programmes. Just one example is the continuing webinar series for frontline trainees providing case-based scenarios covering the initial assessment and management of the most common acute medical presentations.

Digital learning for early-career clinicians

We are now at the start of plans to connect more deeply with our younger audiences, running workshops and focus groups with trainees and medical students to ensure that we stay current and respond to their needs. Already working in challenging conditions, the next generation of healthcare professionals will need educational content that supports their curriculum needs and their wellbeing.

This will mean offering digital learning through different forms of media, with manageable, bitesize learning formats, convenient for healthcare professionals who need the flexibility to slot their learning into busy and over-stretched working lives.

Support for SAS and LED doctors

It is not only healthcare professionals at the beginning of their careers that need our support. We are very aware that the needs of staff grade, associate specialist and specialty doctors and also locally employed doctors are often forgotten or neglected. We will be looking to provide education for these doctors in the areas of cultural awareness, communication skills and familiarity with the NHS, as well as guidance on maximising career opportunities.

We are also planning to build on our education in the areas of leadership skills and knowledge in NHS management, with courses designed to cover business planning, the role of new consultants, appraisal and a multitude of other areas.

Education for multidisciplinary models

With health care in the future relying on increasingly multidisciplinary models, our nurses, nurse practitioners and physician associates also have learning needs that the RSM is well-placed to meet. The Society has an important role in leading recognition for these professions.

We are looking forward to offering RSM members at all stages of their careers webinar-based programmes, virtual simulation, small group learning sessions and, when the time is right, a blend of educational events, including face-to-face meetings, hybrid workshops incorporating whiteboards and breakout rooms, and avatar-based virtual events.

A rich seam of knowledge and experience

In my time as chairman of the Academic Board, I have been humbled by the number of leading health care professionals that we can count as members of the RSM. Coming from the fields of clinical medicine, academic research, population health and national policy, many have given up their time to support our highly influential COVID-19 series of webinars.

Crucially, all of our education programmes offer RSM members access to this rich seam of knowledge and expertise held within the RSM’s specialty Sections. It is this breadth of experience across our networks that will help us on the journey towards a new world of digitally integrated education programmes.

The current crisis has highlighted stark inequalities in healthcare. Population health will be a major focus for us going forwards, as we grasp the opportunity to raise awareness of these important issues and guide the next generation of trainees.


Nik Patel is an interventional cardiologist and Deputy Chief of Medicine and Cardiovascular lead (Stroke, Diabetes and Cardiology) at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. He is also the Head of Health England Kent, Surrey and Sussex School of Medicine.

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