Education Focussed academic – Dr Melanie Fentoullis – writes how she harnessed the opportunities presented by the EF Pathway to support student learning during the pandemic. Dr Fentoullis has recently won the UNSW Vice Chancellor's Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.
I am an early career academic and Senior Lecturer (Clinical Education Fellow) in the Faculty of Medicine & Health at UNSW, and since 2017, I support clinical learning and teaching across our Medicine Program.
As an Education Focussed (EF) academic I have been empowered by the EF community to create transformational educational experiences for my students, engaging them as partners in curriculum review and development. The resources and support provided through the EF Program have enhanced my own professional development, providing opportunities for leadership and to advocate for the importance of teaching across the University.
What does being an Education Focussed academic mean to me?
To me, Education Focussed, means… Community and Connection… Collaboration and Learning… Support and Resources… Opportunity and Leadership
Being an EF gives me immense satisfaction through the personal connections I have made with my peers — EF academics and the professional staff that support us — as well as the collective voice and sense of purpose we have in the EF community. Whether this be through sharing teaching resources (reading the much-anticipated weekly EF Bulletin, presenting and participating in the EF Lunch and Learn series and EF retreats) or through initiatives that value, develop and support us as teachers (as a UNSW EF Champion, Peer Reviewer of Teaching, and Co-leader of the Clinical Teachers’ Community of Practice) — being an EF has been very rewarding. These opportunities to collaborate, engage with, and learn from my EF peers at such a University-wide level have both refined and enriched my teaching practices and education pedagogy.
These opportunities have translated into teaching achievements — this year, I was awarded the UNSW Vice Chancellor's Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. In 2019 and 2020, I won the UNSW Medicine Educational Excellence Awards for successful initiatives including interactive online resources that enhance students’ workplace readiness; a cross-cohort peer teaching program for senior students; and responding to the pandemic crisis in medical education with an online simulated ‘Tele-Hospital’ workplace learning environment.
This has been further bolstered by EF resources — Career Development Funding facilitating professional mentoring for the UNSW Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Award, Senior Fellowship of HEA applications, networking worldwide at education conferences; and Educational Initiatives Fund grant to design high-level educational deliverables.
Reflecting now, I have lost count of the doors the EF pathway has opened for me to harness my strengths in educational innovation and adaptive leadership. Each opportunity, no matter how small or significant, has been beneficial — like a domino effect — in enhancing my ability to inspire my students and review and refine the positive impact I can have on their learning experience.
The tangible ways I’ve impacted student learning: The COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on Clinical Placements
In the UNSW Medicine program, I convene the Clinical Transition Course (CTC), a course that specifically prepares medical students to learn effectively in clinical workplaces.
Clinical placements are a significant learning experience in Medicine. For the CTC, all learning activities draw on experiences within clinical environments, enabling students to develop organisational skills for learning and promoting reflection to refine clinical practice. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted on-site clinical learning, which significantly limited students’ face-to-face clinical experiences. Professional bodies highlighted the need to maintain or adapt clinical placements and support students’ access to clinical training.
In response, I designed a novel Teams® online simulated ‘workplace’ learning community — the ‘Tele-Hospital: Online Clinical Placement’. I saw this as a motivating framework for students to organise their learning and engage with peers. This included:
- Effective communication through online modules
- An individualised “fully” online Clinical Transition Course curriculum
- Simulated patient education scenarios
- Revised oral case presentation assessment
- Developing a learning community through supervising, mentoring and supporting our senior students
As a medical educator on the EF pathway, my teaching philosophy is geared towards facilitating a student-centred approach to learning. Even in a large cohort, my students could have an intimate learning experience in the CTC course. Despite being restricted from physically entering clinical workplaces, using this simulation resource my students were very pleased they could retain uninterrupted access to their clinical learning and achieve associated course learning outcomes.
‘Even in a cohort of 280 we can have intimate learning experiences where your questions get close attention.’ ‘Fun, engaging, useful for learning.’ ‘Lots of flexibility.’ ‘… honestly, no flaw’ (CTC students, PULTS 2020).
‘Really valuable in making sure we were all able to stay connected and feel involved in clinical learning.’ (MedSoc Student Feedback Focus Group, 2020).
‘The student experience has been innovatively designed and in a student-centred manner. The Online Clinical placement has promoted flexible learning opportunities and learning at each students’ pace, to the great satisfaction of students.’ ‘The inclusivity of this platform for students is worthy of great praise’ (UNSW Medical Society President & Vice President, 2020).
Having a career pathway that is designed to support me - not only with the resources that come with the EF role but more significantly for me the community of peers to collaborate with - is something that must be recognised. I am a proud EF academic as I recognise the impact this opportunity has had on my ability to achieve the successes and professional development around my teaching practices. My potential to impact my students and peers as a teacher, a leader, and an education advocate is now more tangible than I could ever have imagined.
About the Author:
Dr Melanie Fentoullis is a Senior Lecturer (Clinical Education Fellow) at UNSW Medicine. She is involved at all levels across the UNSW Medical Program, serving as a Clinical Skills tutor for Phase 1 students and the Clinical Transition Course, and Co-convenor of Phase 3 Medicine.
Dr Fentoullis is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and works as a Consultant General Paediatrician. When she is not at UNSW or in the hospital, you can find her keeping up with her happy and active 4-year old son.