Practical information for Online Surgery Masters courses in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Surgery group have developed a number of distance learning courses in surgery through the initiative of Professor James Garden.  Applications for this academic year are now closed but if you are considering applying for next year this article will provide some useful information.

The most established online distance learning course is the award winning Masters in Surgical Sciences (MSc)-  Edinburgh Surgical Science Qualification (ESSQ) run jointly by the University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh . We have been delighted to  see first-hand the positive effects of this programme on trainees approaching the MRCS exam.

With the Edinburgh Specialist Surgical Qualification, ChM in General Surgery, having launched 2 years ago and graduating its first students this year and the ChM in Trauma and Orthopaedics as well as the ChM in Urology launching last September, we are now starting to see evidence of how advanced trainees can also benefit from this type of course. This year has seen the launch of a new ChM in Vascular and Endovascular surgery, with two excellent year directors David Lewis and Andrew Tambyraja.

Rather than tell you about these programmes from a programme director’s point of view, I thought it would be more interesting to ask the eFacilitators of the distance learning surgical programmes, who are employed full time to ensure the smooth running of these programmes, to address some of the most common questions that prospective students have. Dr Paula Smith facilitates the ESSQ MSc as well as the ChM in Urology. Dr David Pier facilitates the ChM in General Surgery and the ChM in Trauma and Orthopaedics. Paula and David interact with the students on a day to day basis.

Can you give a brief description of the MSc in surgical sciences course?

  Paula Smith  “The course is designed for surgical trainees who are looking to advance their knowledgebase and prepare for the MRCS examination whilst gaining a postgraduate qualification.

The MSc is a 3 year part-time course that is designed to give a firm grounding in basic sciences as they relate to surgery in Certificate year whilst focusing on pre- per- and postoperative care, principles of surgical management and surgical skills in the Diploma year. In the second year the course provides core academic skills that are then developed in the final Masters year through the production of a research dissertation. The research has been of a fantastic standard with over 18 peer reviewed journal publications resulting from this work in recent years.”

 Thanks Paula. Having read a large number of these final year dissertations I agree completely and look forward to seeing further research output from past students.

How does the ChM programme differ from that of the masters?

  David Pier “The ChM courses have built upon our experience with the MSc and developed a programme that prepares the advanced trainee for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons exit examination.

In the later years of surgical training, the on-going academic development of the trainee has been delivered traditionally during a period of clinical or laboratory research training.  No matter how highly an MD or PhD thesis is regarded, taking two to three years out of surgical training may not sit well with the trainees desire to progress seamlessly and in a short time to a high level of competence in surgical practice. The ChM programmes are designed to fit alongside surgical training and use a similar format as ESSQ, of supportive distance learning but delivered towards the end of surgical training. The content of the course is aligned with the Intercollegiate Surgical Curriculum Programme (ISCP) to best prepare the student for the FRCS exam.”

 All of the ESSQ programmes are run as collaborations between the University of Edinburgh and The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, how does this benefit the programmes?

 Paula Smith “Edinburgh is in a prime position to host partnership postgraduate programmes in Surgery. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is dedicated to the maintenance and promotion of the highest standards of surgical practice, through its keen interest in education, training and rigorous examination and through its liaison with external medical bodies. The RCSEd celebrated its Quincentenary in 2005 yet prides itself also on its innovation and adaptability. The RCSEd led the introduction of the specialist exit Fellowship examination which is now delivered on an intercollegiate basis.”

 David Pier “The quality of surgical training and the academic standing of the surgical groups in Edinburgh are highly regarded. Clinical Surgery (headed by Professor O James Garden), within the Division of Health Sciences (CSCH) in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, has a national and international profile in surgical research, contributing to a 5* rating in the last RAE. The surgical group currently hold five clinician scientist intermediate research fellowships at lectureship and senior lectureship level and have strong interdisciplinary links with research.”

 Both the MSc and the three ChM programmes are linked to UK examinations. Is the course relevant to international students?

 David Pier “Actually the association between the programmes and the curricula of the Intercollegiate Fellowship Examination in Great Britain and Ireland make these courses very attractive to the international market. The knowledge and skills developed during the programmes can be directly transferred to many other international examinations. Indeed, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has already expressed a desire to promote the ESSQ distance learning programmes and to make specific recommendation to trainees in Australasia that these be used as a means of better preparing for its professional examination.

Also with the courses being delivered entirely online we are able to charge the same fees to all applicants no matter where they reside.

 How does the course fit with the life of a busy surgical trainee?

 Paula Smith “The course is part-time and fully online allowing students to dip in and out as their clinical activities dictate. In fact the whole course has been designed to be flexible and fit with the trainee surgeons day-to-day workload. Although we advise that the course will require 10-15hrs of input a week some students find that they are able to give the course more time if they have a quiet period at work. Equally the nature of the course means that it is easy to compensate for a week where access to the course was limited by work or personal commitments.”

 David Pier “The online nature of the course and the accessibility that this brings really helps students make the most of their downtime. Students are able to access all of the course material, ejournals and etextbooks from any computer with an internet connection anywhere in the world. In fact more and more students are visiting the course from their smartphones to make use time that may otherwise feel unproductive such as the daily commute.”

 Paula Smith “The online programmes have been so successful that the MSc in Surgical Sciences has received an National eLearning gold award for Best Distance Learning Programme – Education.”

 You mentioned discussion boards. How are these used in the course?

 Paula Smith “Both the MSc and the ChM programmes use asynchronous discussion boards as tools to deliver and assess learning objectives. In the first year of the MSc students are introduced to key topics using an interactive case scenario. Each stage of the case scenario is linked to quality assured reference material and a defined set of learning outcomes that the student can chart as they go. Once this material has been evaluated the student is invited to discuss the material with experienced tutors and evaluate their knowledge against multiple choice questions. The discussions take place asynchronously so timezone differences are not an issue.”

 David Pier “The MSc programme tends to focus on short 2 week discussion boards that follow on from one another whereas the ChM programmes utilise longer discussions that run in parallel with one another. The different styles were developed in order to allow the MSc to cover a broad range of topics whist the ChM programmes discuss complex surgical cases that develop over time.”

 Paula Smith “Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly in favour of the discussion boards. Many students highlight how informative the tutor and peer feedback can be and how it gives a more thorough understanding of topics than simply reading from a textbook.”

 What other assessments will the student complete?

 Paula Smith “On the MSc course students will also complete MCQ questions to test their learning and as a formal exam, complete mini-essays in the Diploma year and an eDissertation in the final Masters year. Past students have said that the programme and the exam have played an important part in their preparation for the MRCS exam. We are proud to say that ESSQ students score an average of 17% higher in the MRCS exam than non-ESSQ students.”

 David Pier “The ChM programmes also have in-course formative MCQ questions as well as an MCQ exam designed to mimic the FRCS experience. The programmes also have an eDissertation and a Reflect ePortfolio assignment designed to encourage critical evaluation and evidence based-practise.”

 Can you give me an idea of the average trainee that applies for the programme?

 Paula Smith “Initially we thought that the MSc would be most applicable to those trainees approaching ST3, but we are now finding that many of our students apply directly from the final year of their undergraduate course. Many applicants have already made the decision to become a surgeon from an early stage and so the course allows them to keep their surgical knowledge up to date whilst they are on rotation in a non-surgical post.”

 David Pier “Applicants for the ChM programmes are typically trainees who are looking for an alternative to an MD or PhD that does not require them to interrupt their clinical training. There are also those that are interested in the programme as a means of supporting their study towards the intercollegiate fellowship examination so they tend to have more experience and be towards the end of their training.”

 So how does a student apply?

 Paula Smith “To get more information and to find out how to apply the best thing to do is visit our marketing websites that have all the information a prospective student should need:

MSc in Surgical Sciences                                 http://www.essq.rcsed.ac.uk

ChM in General Surgery                                 http://www.chm.rcsed.ac.uk

ChM in Urology                                                http://www.urochm.rcsed.ac.uk

ChM in Trauma & Orthopaedics                   http://www.orthochm.rcsed.ac.uk

 David Pier For any other queries we have dedicated email addresses

MSc Programme                                                    essqinfo@rcsed.ac.uk

ChM Programmes                                                 chminfo@rcsed.ac.uk

Applications are now closed for 2013 but you can register interest at any time for next year’s programmes. 

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