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Professor Arunthathi Mahendran delivers inaugural lecture on the future of medical education

Professor Arunthathi Mahendran delivered her inaugural lecture ‘What is the vision for the future of medical education... AI of course! That’s Affective Intelligence’ following her appointment as Institute Director for the Institute of Health Sciences Education (IHSE) at Queen Mary University of London.

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In a wide-ranging and engaging talk, Professor Mahendran opened by highlighting the importance of community. She stated her belief that the value of education does not come in the delivery of content or even the certificate ultimately awarded, but that it should be in the peers we engage with in that time, such as teachers and students.

Community and the approach to medical education

Reflecting on her journey into medical education and her personal community, Professor Mahendran described her first experience entering an operating theatre and the exclusionary impact it had: “The tables were too high, the gloves were too big, the instruments were too long. The space, equipment, and training had been designed for a man far taller than me. This model is the perfect illustration of what exclusive education looks like.”

The experience was a profound one, with Professor Mahendran now in a position to be able to make a difference through spear-heading changes to make medical education more innovative, inclusive and accessible. When teaching her students, she reminds them to remember what their ancestors have given for them to be in the position they find themselves in to make a difference– something she draws from her own experiences. She reminds them: “Grab these choices and make your own path in the world.”

Addressing the audience, Professor Mahendran described how all of this built her approach to medical education. More specifically, that it should be accessible no matter someone’s background and that learning must be authentic.

Affective intelligence and looking to the future

The talk also featured thoughts on the rise of artificial intelligence software and the future of medical education. Recalling being involved in a liver transplant surgery, Professor Mahendran realised that “real clinical practice requires an adaptation to change on the fly. Only human beings can grow, advance, and progress by referring to previous experiences that have helped us to learn and adapt. Machines can’t in the same way.”

These abilities – or affective intelligence – are vital for connecting with patients. This is becoming more important in a world where they can become increasingly isolated by technology that rapidly advances. 

Given the future of healthcare is unknown, Professor Mahendran stressed that alongside the bread-and-butter basics, medical professionals should be taught around new areas including artificial intelligence.

She said: “Inclusive medicine is going to include people and machines. But for human doctors to be necessary and relevant in any future healthcare scenario, we must design learning that draws on our inherent and unique capacity to imagine, innovate, create, think critically, and collaborate.”

Therefore, the future of medical education lies in this remarkable resource of affective intelligence.

About Professor Mahendran

Professor Mahendran combines her academic and education research commitments with clinical practice as a Consultant Transplant Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust. She was recently awarded a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship.

Her career in medical education spans more than 20 years. Her research has informed the design and delivery of medical and surgical education and she has frequently advised educational institutions on the subject in the UK, Europe and beyond.

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