As an undergraduate, Ashwin Venkatesh became embedded as a researcher within Polygeia, a Student-led Global Health Thinktank, which prompted him to recognise prevalent public health issues and strive towards equity in access and opportunity for quality healthcare and education. He was able to publish his work investigating leprosy in vulnerable populations in India in online journals and present at the Annual Wellcome Collection Conference and was subsequently invited to the House of Lords which enabled fruitful discussions with leading policymakers. This served as a platform for Ashwin to visit India and Nepal the following summer, where he spent a one-month observership at the Aravind Eye Hospital before heading to the remote hillside village of Labse in the earthquake-ravaged district of Sindhupalchok, teaching English and Mathematics in a local primary school. These experiences grounded him immensely and made him passionate to engage widely with people from all backgrounds to promote their interests, wellbeing and development.
Now, as a final year medical student at the University of Cambridge, Ashwin is fortunate to reflect upon his contributions in medical education. Having achieved a first-class honours in my intercalated degree in Neuroscience, he was granted the opportunity to work as an undergraduate supervisor at Magdalene College, where he teaches neurobiology to second year medical students on weekly basis and design, mark and invigilate termly mock exams. In his spare time, he also tutors students at the clinical school, adopting simulation and role-play skills to develop both clinical and communicational skills, enabling them to be well equipped to face both common and critical clinical scenarios. He has built upon this further by working with charities such as HeartStart to educate members of the public in lifesaving first aid and CPR skills.
Through his interactions with patients, Ashwin has also channelled the principles of medical education in his academic research. During his student-selected component in neurosurgery, he discussed first-hand the lived experiences of patients with degenerative cervical myelopathy. This led him to work with Myelopathy.org, a charity that aims to improve patient outcomes through scientific & clinical research, education, and collaboration with the wider myelopathy community. Through interaction with this community, he ascertained pragmatic research questions that led him to establish categories of myelopathy disease severity, as a tool to guide research and clinical management, which we have now published in the British Journal of Neurosurgery. He has since delivered talks on “getting involved in research as a medical student” at the International Virtual Health Careers Conference 2020, and organised national events for students to develop and showcase their research skills in his capacity as President of the Cambridge University Students’ Clinical Research Society. He takes great pride in transferring the lessons he has learnt to the enrichment and development of my peers.
These endeavours served as a platform for Ashwin to be selected as the National Educational Lead for NANSIG, a national student interest group in neurology and neurosurgery. In this capacity, he coordinated the organisation and delivery of events and resources to engage, inspire and educate students and the public about the clinical neurosciences. For instance, he helped to pioneer a publicly accessible educational series of over 20 videos summarising core neuropathology, introduced a weekly case-based Q&A through social media and organised national workshops and journal clubs covering both practical and research skills, with over 500 participants consistently attending. He has also led the “Career Insights” webinar series, which helps to survey what a career in neurosurgery entails. In addition, his team are now introducing a neuroanatomy and neuroimaging educational series – an area they systematically identified as lacking adequate coverage in medical schools nationally in their “Study of Undergraduate Neuroanatomy”.
More recently, Ashwin has been able to transfer these skills in communication, collaboration and education as a core collaborator in the ISABEL Epiffany project. This is an exciting initiative that aims to create an online learning platform using a unique combination of virtual cases (based on real patients) and AI-powered clinical decision support technology, that will help developing clinicians to acquire the essential knowledge, problem-solving and decision-making skills they need, even without face-to-face time with patients – an area of increasing educational concern pertinent in the COVID era. His role is to help scale the project and generate cases for the online platform. As part of this, he hopes to be involved in a short teaching course organised by faculty at the University of Nottingham.
In the future, Ashwin hopes to continue to transcend the boundaries of what is possible in the field of medical education. He is motivated by the ethos that access to high quality education is a fundamental right, and working towards this end is his ultimate privilege.