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The Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS) during lockdown launched a brand-new virtual work experience programme for students interested in pursuing a career in science and medicine.

A list of future ideas from one of the work experience students: Given me lots to think about, came into the week mainly just considering research, research sill something I'm really interested in, but made me realise how rewarding working with patients can be, started the week unsure about studying medicine as a big commitment, 'Do something that interests and excites you and enjoy the journey', excited to go into medicine and see where it takes me.

NDS offers work experience placements for students aged 16 years old or over in July every year. Students would usually spend one full week (six students per week over two weeks) in the department, where they have the opportunity to shadow clinicians, observe the hospital in action, take part in hands-on activities within different research groups, and build basic lab skills and techniques.

To ensure that the students didn’t miss out as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NDS adapted its on-site placement to provide students with a week-long virtual work experience programme. 

Staff from across the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals, and the Botnar Research Centre, provided the students with an invaluable insight into medicine and science, and being a doctor and a researcher, as well as other professions within NDS. 

All sessions were delivered through Microsoft Teams and the Zoom platform, and class materials (timetable, activity sheets and other supporting documents) were shared in a specially created 'classroom' in Teams. 

The virtual timetable enabled the students to connect with a wide range of people in various specialties to gain knowledge about different career paths and to discover some of the cutting-edge research, treatments and technology used within the department. It was a unique opportunity to meet surgeons and scientists, to learn how it is possible to combine clinical practice with research, to pick up top tips and to ask lots of questions. 


Meet and Greet with Early Career Researchers - a careers chat with Dr Hannah McGivern, Ms Miriam O'Hanlon, Dr Dimitrios Doultsinos and Dr Helen Stark.

ProMOTE trial presentation - a talk with Ms Miriam O'Hanlon about the ProMOTE clinical trial into surgical interventions in prostate cancer.

Robotic surgery discussion - Mr Alastair Lamb discussed with the students the pros and cons of laparoscopic and robotic surgery, robotic innovation and the da Vinci Robot.

Virtual video clinic - a chance to observe a virtual urology clinic with Mr Alastair Lamb.

High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) lecture on TARDOX - the work experience students joined Nanomedicine MSc students for this talk by Dr Paul Lyon

Safety induction - Mrs Jessica Doondeea provided a virtual tour of NDS on Level 6 in the John Radcliffe Hospital, including the Liquid Nitrogen facility and explained safety in the lab. 

Transplantation Research Immunology Group (TRIG) taster - Dr Amy Cross discussed Treg cell therapies in transplantation and the state of research into COVID-19 and Dr Marie Sion spoke about the cutting-edge single cell RNA sequencing technique.

Meet a surgeon - sessions were held with Professor Andrew Protheroe, Professor David Taggart, Professor Alex Green and Professor Stuart Winter. The students enjoyed listening about their experiences and they way they balanced clinical work with research. 

Global Surgery discussion - Dr Arjun Visa offered a new perspective on global healthcare.

Mentoring chats - Dr Katherine Hurst and Mr Martin Gillies explained how to get into medicine, the practicalities of medical school, the different paths and opportunities which are available, and offered advice on how to get ahead. 

Introduction to clinical trials - read about this session on the SITU Blog. 

And finally the week ended with a feedback session, where the student gave a presentation about their 'virtual' time at NDS. 

What the students said about their work experience week 

"I have really enjoyed all aspects of the week. I found talking to the wide variety of scientists and clinicians very interesting and useful as I previously was unaware of the pathways that can be taken to get into clinical research. It was reassuring to hear that they all had different backgrounds but were still able to find areas that suit their interests."  

"I especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear from researchers and ask them questions, as before this week I didn’t know as much about the research process and what scientists enjoy most about it. Because of this, I was able to find out what research really involves, which has made me much more open to combining clinical and research work in the future."

"Speaking to the huge variety of different people in medicine (especially the medics) at different stages of their careers, provided a really valuable insight that is hard to acquire otherwise."

"This work experience placement really confirmed my desire to pursue a career actively involved in medicine and clinical research as it made me realise just how interlinked the two aspects are. Hearing from so many figures (especially women!) at the forefront of science was inspiring."

"Before this work experience placement, I knew I wanted to be a doctor but I was debating over the possibility of research too within my career, but the speakers this week have really inspired me and their research has been nothing less than fascinating, and I now know that I definitely want research to be a part of my career too."

"I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in making this programme possible, even during COVID-19, because I have learnt a lot this week!"


Meet the team behind the NDS Virtual Work Experience Programme