Medical and nursing students learn vital lessons at school

26th February 2010 at 00:00
But it's not only the trainees who benefit from the four-week courses by Dundee University

What are freckles? What are bogies? Why is poo brown?

These were some of the questions medical student Jocelyn Saunders and nursing student Kerry Jack had to field during a week teaching at a Dundee primary. They were one of nine pairs of students working in the city's primaries, delivering lessons last month on topics such as blood and guts, how your body works, and healthy eating.

The collaboration between Dundee University and the council started last year, when nine medical and nursing students worked in five of the city's primary schools.

This year, the number of students and schools doubled and next year the organisers of the project, which supports the students in meeting their course requirements, hope the numbers taking part will double again, with secondaries as well as primaries getting involved.

Jocelyn Saunders, who is in her second year of a medicine degree, is an enthusiastic advocate of the "teacher" Student Selected Component (SSC), one of dozens of courses students can opt into, giving them greater understanding of an aspect of medicine that interests them.

Jocelyn chose the course because she was interested in becoming a paediatrician but, as the youngest in her family, had little experience of working with children.

"I thought it would be difficult communicating with children because they're so different from adults, but it was easy," says the 20-year-old, who worked with pupils at Dens Road Primary. "They really want to learn and pick things up quickly."

Now Jocelyn is more convinced than ever that paediatric medicine is for her. She hopes the lessons will stick with the P4 and P6 children with whom she and Kerry worked.

"They were so inquisitive, it was nice to share information with them that will help them in the future," says Jocelyn. "This is the stuff everyone needs to know to stay healthy."

The pupils' favourite lesson was about the digestive system. It started at the mouth and ended with the anus, Jocelyn explains. "We mashed up bread and water and squeezed it through tights to show them how the intestines work," she says.

Other lessons involved making lungs from balloons, getting the children to draw round their bodies and label parts, showing them models of the heart and demonstrating medical equipment, such as stethoscopes.

Fiona Muir, a teaching fellow at Dundee University, was instrumental in setting up the four-week course, which involves young medics learning about educational theory and observing lessons. "Students may think they would like to work with kids in the future but get no experience until year four of their studies. This course changes that.

"It also cements what they have learnt in their health-promotion module, which they study before the SSC in January. Meanwhile, nursing students, who are usually in year three or four of their studies, get the chance to work in the community."

Teaching skills are vital for doctors and nurses, Dr Muir explains: "They have to be able to teach in respect of their patients and they should be able to support others in their learning - the students of the future."

From the school perspective, the project supports Curriculum for Excellence health and well-being outcomes and the Determined to Succeed strategy by increasing pupils' understanding of the world of work, says Shona McKnight, employer engagement officer with Dundee's educational development service.

Student doctors and nurses provide positive role models for pupils and deliver lessons that are engaging, she continues. "The university has provided an invaluable classroom experience to pupils and teachers through this initiative. From early years to P7, our pupils have been inspired to consider their personal qualities, aptitudes and aspirations."

And the answers are:

Poo is brown because of the accumulation of dead red blood cells excreted by your body, and oxidised bile from your liver and gall bladder.

Freckles are clusters of concentrated melanin, most often visible on fair complexions. The more melanin you have in your skin, the more tanned you look. People with fair skin have less melanin but some of their melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) make more melanin when exposed to the sun. So instead of getting an even suntan, they sometimes get freckles.

Bogies or snot are medically known as "nasal mucus". It is made by special cells in your nose and acts to protect your lungs by trapping small particles such as dust or pollen.

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