Highlights from the Northern England National Surgical Research Symposium

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) ventured down to Bradford for a second year running to host their annual National Surgical Research Symposium on 1 April 2017. The conference is aimed at medical students and foundation doctors alike, from those who wish to know more about surgery, to those keen to apply for surgical training posts.

This year’s symposium was held at Fieldhouse Education Centre at Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI). I was attending as the HYMS student blog reporter and was excited to return to BRI, this time as a medical student, instead of as the Bradford Clinical Science BSc student I was a few years ago. The symposium featured lectures from surgeons about careers in medicine, oral and poster presentations of research from students and foundation doctors, followed by an afternoon of exciting surgical skills workshops.

Academics in surgery

Ms Deena Harji, Colorectal Surgery Trainee in Newcastle, gave a talk which highlighted the importance of research in surgery. She spoke of how she never planned to have an academic career, but had developed an interest in colorectal research as she progressed through her training. All trainees now have to show evidence of research and publications to progress through core surgical training, and Ms Harji explained that it is becoming imperative that the next generation of surgeons are keen researchers. This highlighted for me the importance of gaining experience and academic skills early on so that audits and research projects are something medical students can feel confident with as they progress through their training. There are opportunities available for medical students through student-led organisations such as STARsurg, which aims to help medical students access opportunities in research.

Surgical simulation – training of the future?

Mr Ben Griffiths, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon in Newcastle, spoke about the changing methods of teaching surgical trainees and the increasing use of technology in surgical education. Mr Griffiths explained that with greater time constraints on consultant operating, time for teaching is not as available as it perhaps once was. With this change in mind, there has been increased use of simulation technology to aid theatre teaching. This is something that Mr Griffiths and his team at Newcastle have been pioneering, and it has prompted great student feedback. While acknowledging the limitations of simulation, and by no means suggesting that it replace the more traditional ‘hands-on’ approach, it clearly has a useful and important place in training.

Surgical portfolios – why scrap paper in an envelope just won’t cut it anymore

The portfolio is essential for any foundation doctor applying for surgical training posts, and Ms Sonia Lockwood, Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon at BRI, gave an insightful talk on how best to present your portfolio. She described how the expectations for portfolios have become higher with each application cycle. Where it was once commonplace for applicants to present an envelope of dog-eared certificates without any real organisation, this simply won’t cut it anymore! Instead, applicants are expected to come equipped with fully indexed and organised portfolios which really show off what they have to offer. These take time to prepare, and Ms Lockwood spoke of the importance of starting the portfolio as a medical student, so that you can add to it throughout your training. Evidence is key for a portfolio, and this is something that even now as medical students we can begin to acquire. For me, this perfectly played into my love of folders, dividers and all things stationery!

Planning a career in surgery?

The final talk of the morning was from Professor Muntzer Mughal, Head of Upper Gastrointestinal Services at University College Hospitals, London. Prof Mughal explained that the career path you intend on taking early on in your medical career is often not the path that you end up taking, but with this comes opportunities and challenges that you never quite expected. He explained that now, more than ever, our health service is changing, and that the NHS we train in will not necessarily be the one that we get to practise in. This highlighted the importance of ‘adaptability’ in surgical trainees, but also for everyone who works in the NHS. Moreover, Prof Mughal spoke of the increasing importance for doctors and surgeons to be leaders and managers within their specialty. Leadership in the NHS is something that I have learned a lot about through being part of the Healthcare Innovation Society at HYMS. As medical students, I believe it is important that we are adaptable and flexible to the changes and challenges that we face.

Research presentations and posters

Following the talks from surgeons, came research presentations from medical students and foundation doctors. It was wonderful to hear about exciting research on everything from neoadjuvant endocrine therapy in breast surgery, to the accuracy of VTE prophylaxis, to re-admission post orthopaedic surgery. This session further highlighted the opportunities available for medical students keen on research, and it was great to see the varied and interesting topics presented.

I had a wonderful day at the RCSEd National Surgical Research Symposium and would urge anyone with even a slight interest in surgery or research to attend next year! It was great to see so many surgeons at different stages in their training, with a passion for both research and their surgical specialty. Events like these provide an opportunity to explore different areas of medicine and offer a unique insight into what specialties entail. I found the day so helpful, as it allowed me to find out more about what being a surgeon involves, and what I can be doing now as a medical student. I left the conference feeling truly inspired, thinking more seriously about whether a career in surgery is something I would like to pursue. That, and wanting to go and buy a shiny new folder for my portfolio!

Special thanks to Alexandra Abel and the HYMS Student Blog team for giving me the opportunity to attend as a reporter, and to RCSEd for such an informative and engaging symposium!

All photos used in this post credited to Dr Junaid Sultan, Senior Registrar in Vascular Surgery, Yorkshire & The Humber.

Elizabeth O’Connell is a third year medical student at HYMS and a Clinical Sciences graduate from the University of Bradford. She is president of HYMS Sport Association and in her spare time enjoys running, baking and playing with her cat Bronte!