‘Inspiring Stories’ with Patricia Goggin & David Johnston

Biomedical Imaging Unit

p.goggin@soton.ac.uk & d.a.johnston@soton.ac.uk

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

What do you do to engage and outreach with the public or patients?

The Biomedical Imaging Unit (BIU) is a joint University of Southampton (UoS)/ University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) facility for advanced diagnostic and research microscopy. The BIU houses microscopes capable of 2-, 3- and 4D imaging using a range of imaging sources (light, X-rays and electrons). These allow us to look at a wide range of patient and research samples at different scales and with different, but complimentary, techniques which reveal different types of information. Outreach involving microscopy is always extremely popular with the public of all ages. It is used as an introduction to microscopy itself, to the research work undertaken by the University and to the diagnostic work undertaken by the Trust. It can be used as a teaching aid, to explain disease processes to patients, to provide source material for art works or just to show people that science is fun and that microscopes and imaging are really cool! We have the best job – making pretty (and informative) pictures on some very expensive toys!
All members of BIU staff (some UoS, some UHS) participate in our outreach work and we are happy to work with outside groups of all ages in any way. However, most of our work is with secondary school and college-age pupils. Our joint UoS/UHS nature means we can also participate in outreach with our sister units in UHS Pathology, broadening our scope to encompass career opportunities within the diagnostic arena. Here are a few examples:
•    Open days (with Cellular Pathology; two per year)
•    Work experience/widening participation students (> 30 per year)
•    School / college visits to BIU (> 4 per year)
•    Nuffield summer students (2 per year)
•    University Open Days in Medicine and Engineering
•    Large scale, school-based activities for whole year groups
•    New Forest Show to support Wessex Medical Trust
•    Assisting other Faculty colleagues with design, construction and 3D printing of items for their outreach activities
•    Customised engagement with specific patient groups (Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia Family Support Group)
•    Activities at the local Science Centre
•    Live, virtual tours of the BIU for groups unable to visit in person
•    Pint of Science talks in pubs
•    Meet the Scientist

What has driven you to participate in public engagement or patient involvement?​​​​​​​

The BIU has a long legacy and strong ethos  of involvement with PE activity, 
More recently, the pandemic and  the need for remote activity had driven us to be innovative. We implemented a roving camera to allow visits from schools, colleges, undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue to take place during COVID-19 restrictions. The camera is able to travel around, filming members of staff while being watched via Teams by visitors. The ‘premiere’ was staged for a group of students from the Winchester School of Art who visit annually and with whom we have had productive art and science collaborations in the past.

For self-guided tours, our 360 ‘Virtual BIU’  allows visitors to explore our corridors, view the posters and artworks on our walls, enter rooms to see instruments, watch videos about microscopy techniques and applications, learn about research projects and interact with 3D models.

How did you get started with Public Engagement or patient involvement? ​​​​​​​

As EM and cell biology are a component part of the A-level syllabus, we are contacted on a regular basis by teachers who ask us to take their classes on a tour (contacts made at other outreach events were very useful to expand our offer to a wider diversity of schools and colleges). From these we have learned how to structure visits, what captured imaginations and how we could improve the experience. We expanded our tours to include the Hospital’s Cellular Pathology laboratory – which many found relevant, as they knew someone who had had a biopsy or were interested in healthcare science career possibilities outside of clinical medicine. 

We have also developed more specialised school activities. A collaboration with a local school lead us to develop a forensics-themed and hospital-based activity day, ‘Murder in the Medical School’, for keystage 3 pupils. This aimed to engage secondary school pupils from a range of backgrounds and abilities with problem solving, teamwork and scientific analysis to solve a murder mystery using a range of microscopy / imaging methods. We ran this for several years with RCUK grant support to fund pupil transport and school cover. However, with more schools becoming academies where full responsibility lies with the school head, rather than the local education authority, and increased bureaucracy we found that many schools were becoming increasingly “risk averse” and unwilling to let pupils travel to undertake activities. 
With our original collaborating school, we therefore developed an alternative activity day titled “Hospital Art Heist” which could be delivered in school to an entire year group (!) as part of Science Week. This has run successfully several times and has now been developed by University PERu interns into an online resource pack to allow any school to undertake the activity. 

Why do you consider Public Engagement / Patient Involvement to be important?

For the public (the tax-payers who ultimately fund us) we hope that talking with us and visiting the BIU gives an appreciation of what we do, of career opportunities ancillary to clinical medicine, of the science that underpins University research and hospital medicine and an insight into the “behind the scenes” activities that support clinicians and patients.

For our patients, it helps them understand how their diagnosis has been reached.

For UoS and NHS, our efforts have been instrumental in outreach becoming an integral part of the Faculty remit, with all Faculty staff being encouraged to participate as a core job requirement and output.

For our staff, engaging with a wide diversity of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds helps develop core communication skills, it can also be terrific fun (and tiring!) and can provide unexpected networking opportunities that lead to new activities.​​​

What reaction do you get during an engagement event? 

Reactions are as diverse as the range of people we engage with, but are universally positive. Pretty much everyone is fascinated by microscopes and the hidden world they reveal, many have had basic microscopes of their own and the opportunity to get hands on (literally, we actively encourage it) with state of the art instruments costing sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds, provides a unique and unforgettable experience. Our “customers” range hugely from primary school children who are excited by seeing familiar things in unfamiliar ways, through engaged patients who want to understand better the techniques used for diagnosis or learn new ways to use their childs’ microscope to retired scientists who are amazed at how the technologies have evolved.​​​​​​​

What do you feel is the impact of the engagement events, what happens as a result? 

We have had the experience of a postgraduate student (now herself the Public Engagement Manager at a leading medical charity) reminding us that she attended a PE event that we ran many years previously and her strong memories of the experience. While we can’t claim any direct influence on her or her career choices it was great to be reminded that there is a lasting legacy on at least some of the participants.

“Tom had a fantastic time at your stand and many others. A huge joy as he hasn’t been able to access classroom learning at school for 6 months due to high anxiety and sensory overwhelm linked with being on the autistic spectrum. This day has inspired him and reassured him that he is still interested and can still learn on his own agenda – he’d worried that he’d completely lost the ability to learn.”

On the wider scale, many of the schools we host come back year on year, so they must feel that the experience is of benefit to their pupils and some open day visitors come back again and again. For the in-school activities, the excitement of a whole year group being pulled off timetable, often without prior notice, to do something different and new for a whole day is tangible.

We are always very happy to work with others and share ideas for public engagement events and activities. 

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Patricia Goggin and David Johnston

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