11 September 2020

The College teamed up with the Social Mobility Foundation to run a special online edition of our medical ethics discussion workshop for 16–18-year olds.

The College public engagement team worked with two RCPath Fellows and some medical undergraduates to deliver an interactive online discussion workshop about medical ethics for over 160 secondary school students. Run in partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation in the first week of the new academic year, the 90-minute webinar was based on our Your Body, Your Consent discussion workshop, which we normally run a few times a year with the Human Tissue Authority for sixth formers at schools and public venues around the UK.

Running the session online in partnership offered the chance to engage with students from diverse backgrounds all over the UK.  

This workshop aims to stimulate discussion and reflection on consent for different uses of human tissue, such as research and transplantation. With COVID-19 still restricting large public events, the public engagement team approached the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) about running an online workshop with school students involved in their programmes.

A key area of work for the SMF is supporting young people who want to study medicine, but whose socioeconomic circumstances may be a barrier to this. All of those who attended the online workshop last week are part of the SMF scheme, and if they do progress on to studying medicine, they will also be supported by the SMF throughout their degree. Due to safeguarding, school students were not visible or able to speak directly to the presenters during the workshop. However, they were able to interact with the speakers via polls and the Q&A function available in Zoom. 

Professor Mark Wilkinson, a retired histopathology Fellow (and original creator of Your Body, Your Consent) led the workshop and introduced the students to the history of medical ethics before presenting an example of a fictionalised ethical case involving someone with Huntington’s Disease. This led into an online vote on the ethical dilemmas presented and to a discussion about the Huntington’s scenario that was led by fifth year medical student, Hannah Reilly, who completed her intercalated MRes degree in pathology.

‘It was a fantastic webinar. Thank you so much for all of the work that you put into organising it. It was so interesting that we wanted to make sure you were able to cover all of the content, which is why we decided to let things run and cut the Q&A slightly shorter.' – Shauna Dillane, Social Mobility Foundation

Then RCPath Fellow and Human Tissue Authority board member, Dr Lorna Williamson, introduced the discussion about organ donation and spoke about the recent changes to the laws around deemed consent (‘opting out’). This was timely as the event was held the week before the annual NHSBT initiative ‘Organ Donation Week’. The polls included questions about organ donation – nearly half the students said they would donate a kidney to save anyone’s life, whether they knew them or not.  


The last part of the session focused on the debates around monetary rewards for those who donate tissue for research. After another poll and some discussion between the medical students on this topic, some of the school students’ questions for the speakers were answered. There were so many questions that the rest will be answered by the RCPath panel in writing. 

The format of the event worked really well and the Social Mobility Foundation are keen to work with the College again. One of the programme coordinators, Shauna Dillane said ‘It was a fantastic webinar. Thank you so much for all of the work that you put into organising it. It was so interesting that we wanted to make sure you were able to cover all of the content, which is why we decided to let things run and cut the Q&A slightly shorter'.

The pathologists and medical students involved also enjoyed the experience and we’re looking forward to the feedback from the school students who attended so we can refine any future events. Running the session online in partnership offered the chance to engage with students from diverse backgrounds all over the UK.  It also offered a chance to highlight organ donation ahead of Organ Donation Week (7 - 13 September). 

Following the success of this event, Professor Mark Wilkinson has been invited to lead a session on study skills with new medical students on Monday 14 September. He will use a pathology example question to teach about integration and problem-based learning that is used at medical school.