Blog posts

Widening Access to Careers in Community Healthcare (WATCCH) 2020/21

by Dr Dominique Forrest and Dr Katie Scott

The 2020/21 Widening Access To Careers in Community Healthcare (WATCCH) programme came to a close in February. WATCCH is a widening participation initiative for Year 13 students interested in pursuing a healthcare career. The 2020/21 programme consisted of a series of remote workshops, developed and run by Imperial medical students on the WATCCH committee, and the primary care team. The workshops are supported by medical student mentors recruited by Vision society.

The programme covers varied topics including interview skills, personal statement writing and reflection and coaching. The WATCCH students also have the opportunity to participate in a question and answer workshop with multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals and attend mock interviews. For the final workshop students were given the opportunity to suggest topics they would like to cover. In response to their suggestions the WATCCH team developed a ‘Higher Education Tips’ session covering key concerns such as finances, academic study tips, university support services, and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on university life. The workshop consisted of large and small group sessions, as well as a truly insightful talk from a first year Imperial medical student on her experience of starting university during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the next few months, whilst students are awaiting interviews and university offers, they can continue to access support from their Imperial medical student mentors via Brightside, an online mentoring platform. The WATCCH team are currently planning for the programme in 2021/22 where we hope to be able to re-introduce primary care work experience opportunities.

Inspiring the future generation: I-Explore Social Accountability in action

by Dr Josh Gaon

In January 2021, building on our relationships with local schools, Undergraduate Primary Care Education launched an exciting and innovative new module for year 2 Imperial Medical and Biomedical science students called I-Explore: Social Accountability in Action. This module was developed by our Community Collaboration Lead, Bethany Golding, together with Josh Gaon, Neha Ahuja, Arti Maini and Imperial StudentShapers Huriye Korkmazhan, Nadia Zaman & Ray Wang, with input from with local schools and community partners.

Imperial students explore the concepts of social accountability, power and privilege through a real-world project developing and delivering after-school STEMM-based sessions for local secondary school pupils in partnership with schoolteachers. STEMM topics have included a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic context, including topical issues relating to vaccine hesitancy and equitable distribution of the vaccine.

Imperial students have worked closely with the participating schools in Hammersmith and Fulham (Fulham Cross Academy, Phoenix Academy and Hammersmith Academy) to ensure the sessions are engaging, inclusive and relatable for the pupils. Through this real-life project work, our Imperial students are gaining invaluable experience of working in partnership with schools and with young people from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities as well as applying critical enquiry, creative thinking and using problem solving skills.

To support this experience, we provided central sessions where Imperial students learnt core inclusive teaching skills and were supported to explore concepts of social accountability, including consideration of power and privilege, and reflect on how these principles relate to their future professional career and their role in society. These sessions were built using inclusive material developed in collaboration with the three participating schools, and with Hammersmith and Fulham Youth Council, Mosaic Trust and Young Hammersmith and Fulham Foundation. We have been grateful to receive valuable input throughout from Matthew Chisambi, a TeachFirst Ambassador and the Innovation Lead at Imperial College Health Partners.

A key challenge this year has been the need to run the entire module, including delivery of after-school sessions, virtually. As many will know, running an interactive session virtually can be tricky even for the most experienced of teachers. Our Imperial students rose to this challenge, creating engaging and inclusive material that brought their sessions to life.

The feedback from schools has been fantastic so far.

Feedback from a teacher at Hammersmith Academy:
“I just wanted to pass on my gratitude on behalf of our pupils for the sessions yesterday, and my praise for the Imperial College students who led them so well. They were both fantastic sessions and flowed very well, stimulating sophisticated, thought-provoking conversation. The information shared was relevant and accessible to our students and the guidance they gave in regards to higher education was most definitely inspiring. I have no doubt that our pupils left the calls, considering their potential and excited for the future.”

The culmination of the project will be a presentation event in March where the students will be showcasing their work as well as reflections and lessons learnt from their teaching experience.

The pandemic has presented us with many unforeseeable challenges. We have been encouraged and heartened by the ability of our students, faculty team, schools and pupils to navigate rapidly changing circumstances, and by the feedback we have received.

We hope that I-Explore: Social Accountability in Action provides an exciting example of how our faculty and students can work in partnership-with local schools and communities to inspire our future generation, and we very much look forward to building on this work.

Support, supervision and service: Training medical students during the pandemic

At the beginning of December, the Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team at Imperial College ran a webinar for our GP Tutors on how best to support and train our medical students during the pandemic.

General practice has been transformed by the COVID pandemic, with majority of patient interactions continuing still remotely via telephone or digital means. This transition has been a steep learning curve for all clinicians. Our medical students have had their own challenges, learning in this changing landscape with reduced face to face contact, increased uncertainty and risk. Questions have been raised about how we can best support and supervise medical students safely as they develop their skills and experience in primary care.

The webinar was designed to address these questions, and to help support our GP Tutors with guidance. It covered how to organise a placement with safe learning activities, tips on supervision of students conducting consultations remotely and how to provide learning opportunities that also enhance service. The webinar also detailed Imperial College’s new guidance on how best to support students that are taking part in clinical and learning activity ‘off-site’, including those self-isolating.

Dr Nina Dutta (Year 3 MICA, Faculty development) and Dr Neepa Thacker (Year 5 GPPHC) led the webinar which was informed by the latest evidence and discussions with our GP tutors and students. We heard from Alexandra Cardoso Pinto (Year 3 Medical Student) on her experiences of being a student in a GP placement during the pandemic. She highlighted her key challenges, including having to isolate for a large part of her GP placement and how she overcame these, giving us all food for thought for our future students.

It was great to be joined by so many tutors with pertinent questions making for a really engaging session. We are glad to say, it was all recorded! If you missed it, you can catch up on link below:

National Diversity and Inclusion in Primary Care Education Working Group

At the end of August, the Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre (MEdIC) held a workshop bringing together leading undergraduate primary care educators across the UK to discuss diversity and inclusion within undergraduate primary care education. The workshop also included representation from the Imperial medical student body, to ensure that our focus remained firmly on those elements of diversity and inclusion which matter most from a student’s perspective. All medical students should feel they belong in their learning environment and are able to be their authentic selves. There is, however, a large literature which demonstrates that a significant proportion of students from under-represented groups continue to feel excluded, unsupported and have been subject to racial harassment. These issues affect learning and contribute to the ethnic attainment gap that emerges through medical education.  This topic has perhaps been never more pertinent in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and widening health inequities including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME populations.

The lens of race and ethnicity was used to examine diversity within primary care education. There was, however, recognition of the importance of approaching the work with an intersectional mindset, acknowledging that when understanding experience of discrimination and oppression all aspects of a person’s social and political identity must be considered including (though not limited to) gender, class, and sexual orientation. Discussion centred on three key areas of undergraduate primary care: curriculum and assessment, promoting diversity and inclusion in the student community and institutional culture. Delegates were candid about experiences within their own institutions many of which had shared themes. Following on from the workshop, key priority areas were identified to take forward including exploring faculty development needs, sharing resources on curriculum development and fostering belonging within the undergraduate student learning environment including development of a diverse personal tutor system.

The group will meet on a regular basis to continue discussions and develop new research with the aim of leading change for undergraduate primary care education, creating an environment where all students feel included and are able to advocate for marginalised groups. This workshop is one of several initiatives that MEdIC are undertaking in their Diversity and Inclusion Theme. Further details can be found on the MEdIC website.

For those interested in finding out more about this work, please email Dr Nina Dutta (Diversity and Inclusion Theme Lead for MEdIC) on

WATCCH – A Student Perspective

by Nida Hafiz

WATCCH (Widening Access To Community Careers in Healthcare), run by the Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team at Imperial College is now in its fourth year of running. The programme aims to support Year 13 students from widening participation backgrounds to pursue a career in healthcare, providing information on a range of careers and guiding them through admissions processes. Mentors, recruited by Vision Society, facilitate the small group sessions within workshops and were first introduced to the scheme last year.

I was delighted to be accepted as a mentor last year, and this year am honoured to be student lead. I decided to apply to become a WATCCH mentor for many reasons. Knowing how difficult and stressful the university application process can be even with support around, I wanted to help provide guidance for those students who do not have access support elsewhere. As someone who would once shy away from mentoring, I really wanted to work on my interpersonal skills and confidence and felt that WATCCH was a great opportunity to do that whilst making a difference. In the past I have volunteered at one-day university application workshops but what drew me to WATCCH was its longitudinal approach, meeting with the same students at each workshop, allowing rapport to be built and maintained, creating a familiar environment for students to seek the guidance they would like.

The workshops are typically held monthly, this year online, covering different aspects of the application process. Following the central delivery of the main content, mentors work with students in breakout rooms on the topic pertaining to the workshop. For example, in the opening workshop in August, mentors and students discussed different healthcare professions’ roles and learnt about each student, their career goals and challenges they anticipated facing this year. September’s workshop was on personal statement writing, and students were able to have their personal statements reviewed in small groups. There is also now the online Brightside platform, new to WATCCH, meaning that mentoring can continue safely outside of the workshops.

Being a WATCCH mentor provides constant opportunities to build on mentoring and communication skills alike. During the training session, Dr Arti Maini ran through key skills for mentoring and coaching, including the GROW model, a personal favourite which involves asking a series of questions to help one think about a difficult situation more objectively. I have learnt what it is to mentor and guide someone rather than handing them the answer, something I have mistakenly done in the past but have been able to work on during the mentoring sessions. I have also learnt to become more adaptable and comfortable not knowing the answer to every question and to take on that mentoring approach and find ways to enable students to reach a solution themselves. These skills, whilst useful as part of WATCCH, could also provide a good foundation to build on later as doctors teaching medical students or doctors mentoring junior colleagues.

Mentoring with WATCCH has made me more appreciative of inequities that exist in accessing places at university and obstacles students can face when applying. To help better support students applying for non-medicine courses we have built up information resources for a range of different healthcare courses for mentors and students to access and we hope this can be carried forwards for years to come. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to help provide the WATCCH students with support to help them achieve their potential and get into their desired healthcare course.

MEdIC team at the International Association of Medical Education (AMEE) Conference 2020

by Sam Coster and Zoe Moula

In September, the MEdIC team (Medical Education Innovation & Research Centre) based within PCPH, attended the AMEE 2020 conference.  Due to COVID restrictions, the conference was held entirely on a virtual 3D platform.  On registration, attendees created their own avatar, who could wander through a hall of virtual posters, attend presentations in virtual conference rooms, and network with nearby avatar attendees.  There were no difficult choices on which sessions to attend, as all presentations were streamed live and then available on demand.  Although there were a few technical hiccups, and people occasionally lost control of their avatars, the whole experience was both unique and rather fun.

The quality of the work presented at the conference was high. Predictably there was a strong focus on the educational response to COVID, and the use of technology to support digital learning and remote teaching.  However, there was an impressive range of other topics featured, including innovative presentations on the arts in medical teaching, diversity and inclusion, serious games and clinical reasoning.  Dr Noreen Ryan (PCPH) presented work on what influences early years patient safety teaching and learning outside the formal curriculum, and MEdIC’s Dr Nina Dutta, shared her work on widening access to community careers in healthcare (WATCCH) within the Diversity and Inclusion stream.

Whilst not quite like being there, the change of format brought its own advantages.  With continued access to recorded conference material over the coming year, AMEE 2020 will continue to stimulate discussion and inspire future teaching innovations within MEdIC.

Imperial College School of Medicine – Volunteering in the community

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in early March it became clear that our medical students could form a key role in providing support to local communities via volunteering their services to GP Practices across North West London. The Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team set up an innovative new medical student volunteering scheme which has to date allocated 70 individual students to 45 GP Practices who expressed the need for volunteers to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students from across the MBBS years came forward to be part of the scheme, many of whom were still carrying out their studies and preparing for their end of year exams, but were keen to find the time to devote some hours each week to support GP Practices across North West London.

The medical students undertook a variety of activities whilst in the practices, ranging from manning the practice telephones in reception, processing repeat prescriptions and delivering medications, telephone triage of patients, calling vulnerable and isolated patients plus working with practice based link workers in the community.

The scheme is still running for medical students in years 1-3 who can continue to volunteer until nearer to the start of the new academic year, and we are still finding that new recruits are coming forward to help.

Medical students have commented on how much they have learnt from the experience, how they have felt able to contribute towards the national emergency efforts and importantly how much of an impact they were able to make to the lives of vulnerable and isolated patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out Of Programme Experience (OOPE) Reflections

by Dr Flik Lalloo and Dr Nicky Hawkins


[pronounced ooo-pee]


‘You’re on an OOPE? What’s that?’ Frequently asked this question over the past 12 months by colleagues, students, family and friends, occasionally it has been all too easy for us to fall back on the automated response – ‘we’re taking a year out of GP training to work in medical education’, and leave it at that. In reality, the insights gained and lessons learned over this past year have formed a significant part of our postgraduate training in themselves. Here we expand and reflect on our Out Of Programme Experience (OOPE); a year-long full-time post as Medical Education Fellows within the Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team at Imperial College London.

Generally granted for a period of up to 12 months, an OOPE does not count towards the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) but provides a valuable opportunity for postgraduate trainees to gain experience in areas outside the curriculum of their chosen specialty.  In 2019, as GP-trainees fast approaching CCT, we were keen to build on previous extra-curricular teaching and learning experience and further develop skills that could be applied to our future careers; with primary care a prime environment from which to facilitate authentic undergraduate learning experiences, there is a demand for community clinicians that are willing and able to actively engage in medical education. Despite this, little (if any) formal training exists within the postgraduate GP curriculum. We therefore sought to temporarily pause our GP training and apply for this post, enabling us to pursue these interests further.

Fully immersed within the Primary Care department, we have been involved in a wide range of educational activities (Figure 1). Alongside the regular delivery of departmental teaching sessions across all years of the MBBS, we have engaged in assessment and feedback practice, course evaluation, curriculum development and medical education research, simultaneously undertaking postgraduate qualifications in teaching and learning ourselves.

We feel lucky to have been supported by a dynamic team that is passionate about general practice, continually striving to deliver meaningful undergraduate learning experiences. Beyond developing practical skills in teaching and learning, we have gained insight into the value of true collaborative working – between students, faculty and the community and across different courses and institutions both nationally and internationally. Building on this, it has been exciting to be part of innovative departmental projects that are underpinned by socially accountable values and evidence-based practice; amongst others, specific examples include two pilot Longitudinal Integrated Clerkships (Year 5 Longitudinal Community Clerkship and Year 6 F-Zero), the Widening Access to Careers in Community Healthcare scheme, and the Year 3 Community Action Project response to COVID-19.

Taking a step back from the demands of clinical work and focussing on medical education in this way, we have gained valuable perspective on the symbiotic relationship that exists between the two areas of practice – core knowledge and skills acquired from each one enhancing everyday practice in the other. As we prepare to return to our final year of GP training, we feel empowered to actively seek and maintain a balance between the two fields in our future careers. The OOPE year has been invaluable in our development as general practitioners, looking to guide and inspire the next generation of tomorrow’s doctors. To all of you that have guided and inspired us over the past 12 months – thank you.

Medical students and community leaders work together to make a difference

by Murray MacKay and Bethany Golding

Third-year medical students partnered with community, voluntary, health & social care leaders to respond to local needs in the era of COVID-19

Twenty-five third-year medical students volunteered to take part in the normally compulsory part of their degree. All have worked with their partner organisations remotely via video-conferencing. Faculty connected early on with healthcare commissioners and community leaders to identify needs and assets, meaning that our students were well-placed to get involved and bring innovative ideas to important initiatives.

Dr Nina Dutta said: “Medical students across the world have been able to come together and work with community leaders to address pressing local needs.”

The seven different projects were ongoing over a period of ten weeks, and range from partners as varied as Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in the Community Trust to local community groups and voluntary organisations such as the Community Champions, Sobus, Healthy W12, the BME Health Forum and Healthwatch CWL.

Students taking part in the project also had the opportunity to discuss their plans with international thought leaders, and West London Health Partnership has funded some of the promising projects.

Nafsika Thalassis, the Director of the BME Health Forum, reflected: “The best thing about it was how you found out what was important to the community leaders. As a result, we were doing a project that we thought genuinely mattered.”

Student Shaper Ray Wang added: “What I think makes this type of work more meaningful for the local people and the people involved, is to have a problem and then have some sort of open-ended discussion around how do you go about solving that problem in a way that works for you rather than an idea that works for people that might be sitting in the office suite.”

Communities and medical students tackle health inequalities together

Dr Nina Dutta, course lead in the School of the Public Health, said: “Our students have admirably risen to the challenge of identifying and addressing the needs of the College’s local community. Although this term, currently a voluntary part of their programme, we’ve had a great response to the project. The undergraduate medicine MBBS course has had to shift to delivering education online response to the pandemic. This has posed challenges due to the inherent hands-on nature of healthcare, however the digital community action project has been a successful example of this transition. Here medical students across the world have been able to come together and work with community leader to address pressing local needs. We’re looking forward to learning lessons from this experience, and hopefully being able to see all our students and community partners in person again soon.”

Presenting their projects remotely to their peers on 6 May, one student group’s ‘Community Action Project’ (CAP) has built on past work by the Community Champions Programme and QPR in the Community Trust. The need for the project was identified by the Champions and the Trust early on, with their respective profiles, community and social media reach being key to the project’s sustainability.

The Addison Community Champions and representatives from QPR in the Community Trust are now preparing to create and deliver resource packs for one hundred vulnerable families living in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The packs will provide items to support children and young people’s creativity and emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, including recipe books and exercise ideas, mental health support, mood journals, arts and crafts materials, and signposting flyers designed by Imperial students.

Barbara Shelton, Project Manager at Addison Community Champions, said: “This is my third year of being involved with Imperial community projects. The students were wonderful. Many have never set foot in a community centre before and don’t necessarily recognise what they’re there for, so that learning experience is always useful. Especially in times like these the medical profession needs to recognise that community leaders are an asset. If students can have those interactions at this early stage of their career, it will change the way they view their communities forever. For our part as community partners, one of the biggest lessons we learn from the students is how to better showcase the work we do, and how we can tackle social inequalities together.”

Another student group, working with the BME Health Forum Director and West London CCG, created accessible, captioned videos in multiple languages (English, Farsi, Sylheti, Kurdish, Somali, and Arabic) to reassure communities in North West London that NHS services continue to be safe to use during the pandemic. Targeted especially to meet the needs of BAME communities, the videos will be shared via community leaders and social media platforms, particularly on WhatsApp and Facebook.

Student Abi Mahendran said: “With A&E attendance 30% lower than in normal times, and with 4% of Londoners not speaking English well, we knew this might be a useful project. We originally had a shortlist of languages we wanted our videos to be translated into, but we’ve found the communities we’re working with are even more diverse and require additional translations. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to put plans in place to publish even more videos.”


Educational empowerment

All seven projects were taken forward owing to the College’s commitment to continue delivering on its educational mission during the social distancing measures introduced in a number of other countries across the world.

Bethany Golding, Community Collaborations Lead in the School of Public Health, said: “It has been really impressive to see how students and community leaders have come together under challenging circumstances to work on targeted projects that could make a real difference. It was great to work with West London Health Partnership in bringing down funding for these projects where needed, and I am grateful to our inspiring community partners who worked so hard to connect our students with the voices of communities, and are now taking the projects forward. As a Faculty we should be very proud of our students’ engagement with community needs at a very challenging time.”

Third-year medical students Nadia Zaman and Kim Alipio undertook a CAP exploring how global examples of asset-based community development (ABCD) could help to proliferate community-led COVID-19 related initiatives in Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow and Ealing. Nadia said:

“Undertaking the Community Action Project opened my eyes to the challenges faced by different groups in society. Having grown up in London my whole life, doing this research made me more aware of how social determinants of health can impact on residents’ quality of life in different boroughs. I learnt the importance of community collaboration and how great work can be done when communities and organisations come together with the common goal of changing lives for the better.”

Kim noted how the CAP had affected him on both a professional and personal level: “Participating in the CAP has shown to me the affirmative and inclusive aspects of engaging with the community, where anyone and everyone can thrive by working together to achieve common aspirations. Everything I have learnt throughout this project, I will take away and keep close to my heart not only as a medical student, but as a person as well.”

The CAP module is just one of a number of learning experiences created by Imperial’s Undergraduate Primary Care Team in the School of Public Health that are intended to encourage students to collaborate, engage with the communities in which they’re living and working, studying and working in, and gain an authentic understanding of what it means to be a medic in the modern world.

Imperial College Union Student Choice Awards Success

Congratulations to several members of the Undergraduate Primary Care Education team who were nominated by students for the 2020 Imperial College Union Student Choice Awards.

Dr Arti Maini, Deputy Director of the Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team, received the Award for Outstanding Student Partnership. This award is given to an individual with a student-centred mindset who embraces all aspects of student-staff collaboration from co-creation to co-evaluation. The students who nominated Arti commented that she demonstrates ‘a true understanding of the student perspective and goes above and beyond to create space for them to express their opinions. She is able to create a symbiosis between staff and students.’ Arti is an inspiration for all who she works with and this award is appropriate recognition of her hard work and dedication to students and faculty.

Dr Camille Gajria, Teaching Fellow within the Undergraduate Primary Care Education Team, was shortlisted for the Award for ‘Outstanding Professional Support Staff’. The panel were impressed with how Camille was able to apply her knowledge as a GP to help her students. She was recognised particularly for her engagement and student-centred approach with the Imperial GP Society.

Dr Nichola Hawkins and Dr Nina Dutta were nominated for Student Choice Awards for Outstanding Teaching. Nichola is an out of programme GP trainee in the department and Dr Nina Dutta leads the Year 3 MICA course.

Bethany Golding, community collaborations lead, was nominated for an award for Outstanding Student Partnership. This is particularly impressive as Beth joined the department in January. In the few months she has been here, she has been able to forge important collaborative relationships with students and community to develop our undergraduate courses such that they are better able to target the assets and needs of our local community.

Thank you to all of our students for their nominations and we look forward to continuing these hugely valuable collaborative relationships.