Meet our National Teaching Fellowship candidates

Dr Sarah Allsop (she/her)

Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Education and was recently nominated by the University to apply for the Advance HE, National Teaching Fellowship scheme in 2024.

I am a Medical Academic working as a Senior Lecturer in Medical Education here at the University of Bristol in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. I think at heart I may have always been an educator. Starting at school, I often took the opportunity to get involved with tutoring roles in some way, whether supporting younger students with their work or coaching the local netball club.

I also have a love of organising and planning, which may sound strange, as I appreciate for some people this is the least enjoyed part of their role! During sixth form I became inspired by medicine and was successful in gaining a place at the University of Birmingham to begin my training to be a doctor.

Throughout Medical School, I was involved in a number of peer training schemes, where although I didn’t know it at the time, I was developing some of the educational practices and foundations of learning theories that have gone on to shape my educational philosophy to this day. One such scheme was the peer-led basic life support (BLS) training scheme at Birmingham known as RMD (Resuscitation Mentorship Development). I was trained by student peers from the higher years to qualify as a BLS instructor. I then taught the next year of students BLS, in an ever growing community of practice.

After graduation in my practice as a doctor, I often saw parallels between my clinical work and my teaching work. Central to both is the use of carefully chosen language to help people understand complex concepts and processes. It is also important to consider the preceding knowledge of the individual, acknowledging their point of view so that you can construct with them a platform for new learning and understanding. I continue to use this constructivist principle in my teaching practices, to enable my students to better frame their learning and know how to use it.

Part way through my medical training, I decided I wanted to take an education post away from the NHS, and undertook a 6 month fixed term post as an Anatomy Demonstrator at the University of Bristol. I loved the experience; teaching first and second year undergraduates was so rewarding and fun! Returning to the NHS after this post, I found that whilst working as a doctor was still extremely rewarding, I could not quite shake my academic interest in Higher Education. In 2010, I took a leap of faith and left the NHS to pursue my aspiration to become a medical academic. I found myself at the University of Bristol again, and I have never looked back.

Now, 13 years later, I have the privilege of working on the most amazing and innovative education projects here at Bristol Medical School. My own teaching philosophy has also grown and changed over time. Learning from excellent colleagues and mentors, I have come to understand more about how to instil curiosity in students and use my background in the NHS to consistently frame my teaching in real world examples. Above all though, I try to get my students excited about their learning. The topics I teach are often complex and include challenging terminology, but they are also topics which I find really fascinating. By sharing my energy for these subjects, described by one student as ‘…infectious enthusiasm…’, I promote a dynamic learning environment, using quizzes and pedagogic games, and with plenty of opportunities to ask questions.

From my starting point at the university as a unit lead, I have been asked to take on growing leadership responsibilities, including year lead for the MBChB programme and Programme Director for the Applied Anatomy honours degree. From 2015-2020, I was invited to lead the curriculum change process (known as MB21) for Year 1 of the Medical Programme. This was one of the most significant curriculum reviews undertaken at Bristol Medical School for several decades. It afforded me the opportunity to lead and collaborate with a group of innovative and passionate colleagues across the university and NHS, to deliver inspirational change to the teaching delivery of the first year of the medical programme. I am privileged to now be undertaking my PhD in Medical Education researching some of the innovations implemented during the curriculum review process.

It was also during the curriculum review period that I pitched the idea of bringing the peer-led life support scheme from Birmingham to Bristol. Over a period of two years, working collaboratively across the institutions we rolled out a new site of the peer-led scheme. Now fully established, we have taught and qualified over 1500 students with a life support qualification and trained nearly 250 students to be instructors at Bristol. The successful rollout of the scheme has led to me supporting the schemes implementation at the University of Brunel, with a further enquiry from Leeds, and I sit on a national collaborative group working with the Resuscitation Council UK, to fully nationalise the scheme.

Due to my enthusiasm for supporting other educators, both students and staff, I have recently been appointed as co-chair of the Bristol Medical School Education Research Group (BMERG), building a community of practice for educators to come together and support best practice in medical education.

My experience has also led to opportunities to work with national associations, serving 5 years as a trustee of the British Association for Clinical Anatomists (BACA) and more recently as a member of the Medical Academic Staff Committee and Co-Chair of the Women in Academic Medicine Subcommittee for the British Medical Association. Through this I have been able to contribute to national policy affecting medical educators across the UK and support junior doctors and medical students through both policy and advocacy work.

I am thrilled to have been selected as an NTF scheme nominee for Bristol this year. Being able to share practice and to learn from other liked-minded individuals is a great part of working as an academic, and the opportunity to join a national community designed around raising the profile of excellence is really exciting.

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