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The Health Sciences Academy

Thu, 01 Oct 2020

Prof Mark Burke


My role as Chief Academic Officer to the UL Hospital Group and the University of Limerick, as well as vice dean in the EHS faculty, has at its core, the objective to promote and optimise interaction at an academic level in clinical training, education and research between all the Health Sciences Departments in the University of Limerick and the UL Hospitals Group.  Pre-COVID, meeting people face-to-face, building relationships and optimising opportunities for research between the two organisations were key aspects to my day-to-day function.   Working closely with the Hospital Executive, Executive Dean of Education and Health Sciences, and the office of the Vice-President of Research, we are aligning the organisations to capitalise on our respective strengths and expertise.  The Health Sciences Academy is one such example, with the objective of bringing together research, education, innovation and clinical practise.

To date

Reflecting on the past six extraordinary months, there have been many opportunities and developments in how healthcare is delivered, how training is provided and collaborations are realised.  Prior to the onset of COVID, huge strides were being made between the HRI and our cancer physicians. This work has continued, with one student completing a Master’s thesis on the potential role of artificial intelligence in diagnostic imaging.  COVID provided opportunities for Prof Leonard O Sullivan and his colleagues in the Rapid Innovation Unit to work closely with our surgical, anaesthetic and cardiology colleagues.

Videoconferencing for online learning and training  have become a critical component of healthcare education during the pandemic as evidenced by the success of our  schools of medicine and physiotherapy in completing their final year examinations  and work experiences using information technology.   The challenges that medical education now faces as a consequence of students being allowed limited access to patients has highlighted the need for good simulation models to be developed.   My colleagues and I in the national CAO network successfully secured funding for simulation education in all the hospital groups.   The focus  in UL Hospitals  will initially be on “point of care” ultrasound, obstetric techniques, respiratory intubation and emergency simulations. This will provide interprofessional student learning opportunities for health science students as they progress through their career path.  The current Simulation Laboratory the Clinical Education Research Centre (CERC)  is about to be updated by the School of Medicine and a Simulation Technician has also been appointed, so definite progress at every level is being made!

The Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) is another example of the  successful University and Hospital group partnership. The ICF has proved to be a huge success in its focussed interdisciplinary approach to rehabilitation and healthcare delivery.  This has greatly facilitated Allied Health Science student placements.  A collaborative research project between UL researchers from the Schools of Allied Health and Nursing & Midwifery, and clinical staff in ICF, has been submitted to the ULHG Research Ethics Committee, and hopefully this will capture the huge contribution that this venture has made to both health and social care, but also to health professional education during COVID.  This is just one example of the many research opportunities that COVID has presented. Close cooperation between the physicians and anaesthetists at UHL and the HRI/Clinical Research Unit in the Clinical Educational Research Centre (CERC) has enabled UL and UHL to join international multicentre studies on different aspects of COVID management. 

Future – Challenges.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of strong relationships between the University and its hospital partner, particularly with relation to enabling  medical, nursing and health science students recommence their on-site training  in the hospitals and other clinical environments.  The School of Medicine has led out in developing a “COVID Information Training Module”  which is enabling students to move between different departments in a safe way.  New memoranda of agreements have had to be developed between the Health Sciences Faculty and the Hospital Group, and the senior staff in these departments deserve huge credit for what has been achieved on behalf of their students in such a short period of time.  Ultimately, the success of all these plans will depend on the students taking personal responsibility for their actions during COVID, and continual emphasis on one’s professional responsibility as health professionals will be one of the keys to the next year being successfully completed by these students.