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Disability in the Health Sciences - A Summer School

Written by Phil Halligan & Frances Howlin, UCD Disability Support Team

Ahead, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems (UCD/SNMHS), held their first unique Summer School for professionals supporting students with a disability in healthcare to share their learning, network and forge alliances for the future. The three day Summer School was held in University College Dublin between the 27th to 29th August. Over the past few years, AHEAD and UCD/SNMHS have made a significant number of commitments and implemented initiatives for supporting nursing and midwifery students in clinical practice. This year, they extended these commitments to include all health care disciplines (Medicine, Radiography, Speech and Language therapist, Occupational Therapy, and Physiotherapy) who have responsibility for including students with disabilities in the Health Professions, including clinical placements.

The Summer School offered an outstanding opportunity to open a dialogue about the inclusion of a diverse range of students on placement in Healthcare, especially students with a disability. Overall, and collectively, participants at the Summer School considered their approach to students learning and assessment whilst on clinical placement, reviewed common issues, and debated the challenges they perceived to be facing their students with disabilities in these contexts. Throughout the three days, participants reflected on how current support structures and procedures could be changed to improve supports for their students by aligning their current work and support strategies with the principles of Universal Design from a health care perspective.

Cian Denihan Speaks at the AHEAD Summer School

Participants in attendance were from several third level institutions, healthcare and disability support services, including Irish hospitals, Hospital Services Executive (HSE), and universities across Ireland, England and Scotland. Invited presenters covered a range of topical issues that focused exclusively on supporting students on clinical placements in the field of health care. Overall the groups created a very inspiring and productive summer school that managed to execute the tasks planned for the event while also generating some practical and new ideas for developing ways of providing further support to students seconded on placements in a variety of clinical settings.

On the first day, Ann Heelan (CEO of Ahead), welcomed and opened the summer school and introduced participants to the overall objectives and the associated evening networking activities. Participants were encouraged to introduce themselves to the group, briefly outline their area of expertise and expectations to focus the organizers and assist in optimizing the event outcomes. Leadership ‘Doing the right thing versus doing things right! was a central theme that flowed throughout the summer school. Dr. Phil Halligan emphasized, through her knowledge and expertise of leadership practices, that we all need to ‘lead’ the way in supporting our students in healthcare if we are truly to claim to have a diverse and an inclusive educational system for all. Following on from Phil, Barbara Waters (Disability Consultant), posed interesting case studies and dilemmas to participants about ‘Fitness to Practice and maintaining standards in an uncertain world’. This was directly followed by Katie Ridge, Barrister of Law teasing out the ‘The Law: A psychological contract?’ and then Ann Heelan introduced a session on Teaching, Learning and Universal Design taking into account that you cannot make assumptions based on what you think you know!

Participants were then treated to a fun evening literary tour of Georgian Dublin that allowed them to wind down and get to know each other. As Dublin is one of the literary capitals of the world, participants enjoyed being guided to the birthplaces of James Joyceand the Nobel Prize for Literature winners William Butler YeatsGeorge Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. Following the historical update, all weary participants finished their first day with food and drink entertainment in Dublin’s fair city.

Days 2-3 of the event focused on the processes of disclosure and assessment where Mary Quirke (Assistant Director of AHEAD) provided invaluable insights, from her experience and knowledge, about the student perspective titled ‘The Student: A Certain or Uncertain Future, Assessing the Need for Accommodation – a systematic approach’. Mental health was the next area addressed because, as Dr Cian Denihan, Consultant Psychiatrist, UCD Student Centre indicated, it is often considered to be ‘the big elephant in the room’. Dr Denihan focused on addressing and recognizing student Mental Health difficulties on Clinical Placement and provided insights from his professional background and experience of working with students as to how staff supporting students could start the conversation about mental health issues and more importantly, where support staff responsibilities are positioned at the end of the day. The concept of ‘Disclosure and how to create a relationship of trust’ was provided by the theatrical group Adaptas which was highly interactive and fun.

Katie Ridge in full flow at the Summer School

The final day of the summer school began to come to a close with Helen Carroll, Learning Support Tutor, from Dublin Institute of Technology introducing the most common disclosed disability in many third level institutions – ‘Dyslexia – so what are the issues really?’ Helen provided a detailed account of the psychological assessment process that students have to complete in advance of their registration and this also provided further insights to participants/assessors when agreeing suitable accommodations for each student with a disability. Before completion, James Northridge (UrAbility) provided an excellent demonstration on the many tools available that assist students with disabilities, mainly dyslexia, in many health care environments.

The summer school concluded with an opportunity for all participants to brainstorm the future - where we go from here, future support and networking. Before departure, participants were invited to complete an evaluation of the event and rated the summer school as excellent for content, delivery and for overall organization. In addition, participants rated thesummer school as a good opportunity to review national and international good practice. This illuminated the impact of different methods used by teaching and support staff who work with undergraduate students with disabilities and as a result a clearer understanding emerged about challenges facing professionals (both in the lecture theatre and the clinical setting) as they seek to maintain egalitarian standards and an inclusive healthcare environment.Considering the excellent feedback and interest, another Summer School is being considered in Summer 2014. One thing for certain, the Summer School has given participants’ great opportunities to learn, network and have some fun!

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