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Meet the National Teaching Fellowship nominees – Senior Lecturer Sarah Allsop

Sarah is a Senior Lecturer within the School of Anatomy and was recently nominated by the University to apply for the Advance HE, National Teaching Fellowship scheme in 2021.

Hello, I am Sarah, and I am a Medical Academic working as a Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Medical Education here at the University of Bristol. I have always enjoyed teaching and sharing knowledge. This interest has grown over many years, from getting involved in peer teaching during my own undergraduate medical degree, teaching students on the wards as an NHS doctor, right through to my current role as a full time academic.

Throughout my undergraduate training at Medical School in Birmingham, 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 pedagogic practices and foundations of constructivist and behaviourist 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 for Medical Disciplines). 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. During this first real experience of teaching, I learnt the immense satisfaction of sharing knowledge and skills, and seeing those skills honed and perfected by the learner.

Throughout my work 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 always important to consider the preceding knowledge of the individual, understanding their point of view and their prior understanding, so that you can construct a platform for new knowledge. I try to consider this constructivist principle in all my current 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. I undertook a 6 month post as an Anatomy Demonstrator at, believe it or not, 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, whilst working as a doctor was extremely rewarding, I could not quite shake my academic interest in Biomedical Sciences Education. In 2010, I took a leap of faith and left the NHS to pursue my aspiration to become a leading medical academic and educator. I found myself at the University of Bristol again, and I never looked back!

10 years later, I now have the privilege of working on the most amazing and innovative education projects here in the Faculty of Health Sciences. From 2015-2020, I led the curriculum change process for Year 1 of the new MB21 Medical Curriculum. This has been one of the most significant curriculum reviews undertaken at Bristol Medical School, and it has been really exciting to be part of it. I have had the opportunity to lead 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.

Building on my own past experiences I have incorporated new language and support for students transitioning to medical school, such as regular year lead drop-ins for students to come and ask questions. I have also led the development of new assessment practices, helping to change the focus away from the traditional heavily summative assessments, to one of engagement and formative progress. Instead of talking about ‘ability’ to progress through medical school, which all of our students have already shown academically in their performance prior to medical school, I promote that of being ‘ready’ to progress. This subtle, but important change in language, acknowledges the diversity in the personal and professional development of each student as an individual, and encourages students to think about their engagement and ownership of the curriculum, so that they feel ready to move through each stage of training.

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.

It was following my successful application to Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy in 2019, that I became aware of the National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) Scheme. Being able to share practice and to learn from other liked-minded individuals is a great part of working as an academic, but often this is on a local scale. The opportunity to join a national community designed around raising the profile of excellence is really exciting.

In late November, I found out I had been selected as an NTF scheme nominee for Bristol. I am thrilled to be offered the chance to become an NTF. Now I start on the journey of piecing together my claim to join the Association of National Teaching Fellows. I am looking forward to reflecting on my achievements of the past few years and sharing my story during my NTF application – wish me luck!

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