Co-designing Curriculum for Rural Surgeons

Updated: 7 days ago

Max Hardy interviews Daniella Dougherty, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)


Authentic Co-design (Susan Carter and I) had the honour of facilitating a series of Co-design Workshops to help inform rural-facing curriculum development for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). Working with surgeons was a new experience and bought some unique challenges to the co-design process (in particular scheduling!) and so I took the opportunity to sit down with Senior Research Officer Daniella Dougherty and find out more about the experience from a RACS perspective.



MH:

Hello Daniella. Firstly, I would be interested to know what led RACS to consider a co-design approach to this curriculum development?


DD:

The first stage of the project we aimed to find curriculums from other organisations to determine what may and may not be needed in a rural-facing surgical curriculum in Australia (we had to focus on Australia due to funding restrictions). We found nothing! So, we had to start from scratch. We first completed a Delphi study to get an idea about what potentially was needed but then decided a co-design approach would really help us engage with the individuals who would be using the curriculum to determine what was needed, what wouldn’t work, and how to make it as functional as possible.


MH:

Finding a time to do the co-designing was tricky with surgeons. Friday nights were it eh? Tell us what made this the most suitable time of the week?


DD:

Surgeons are really busy people and usually have surgical lists into the evening, and committee and working group commitments (as well as some personal commitments!) during the evening, we didn’t particularly want to use the weekends, as surgeons require some time to do their hospital rounds and spend time with family. Friday evening seemed like the best time to complete the workshops. We did have some individuals unable to attend due to the time frame though.


MH:

What were some other challenges with the process?


DD.

Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions we needed to complete the two workshops online, which led to some issues for individuals who were multitasking at the time e.g. we have surgeons driving, some on call, some having to check in on patients. This was overcome with breakout rooms with a scribe and leaving the online documents open for individuals to complete afterwards.


MH:

What were some of the most interesting or surprising insights gained from surgeons during this process?


DD:

I think understanding the personal conflicts of rural surgeons. As communities are smaller, they can come face to face with having to complete surgeries on individuals that are known to them are their staff. The surgeon needs to make sure the staff are prepared and in the right headspace to take care of people that are known. In an urban setting it would be rare for a surgeon or nurse to treat someone in their relationship circle.


MH:

I found that really fascinating too. We heard some amazing stories from these surgeons. What have you personally learned about the co-design process?


DD:

We learnt that people are really engaged in work that is targeted to benefit them and can provide great personal insight. I also learnt how hybrid and modifiable the process can be. You can really design them in a way that will work best for your desired outcome rather than having to stick to quite a rigid methodology. As a researcher, this was quite refreshing.


MH:

Can you see yourself pursuing this approach in future?


DD:

Definitely! The information we gained from the co-design was some of the most valuable for the project and listening to the discussions between participants was invaluable. As it was based more around direct contact with the researcher, it helped me network and I’ve gained some strong advocates for the project that are still helping me today.


MH:

Yes, it’s not uncommon for participants becoming ongoing champions or ambassadors when they become so engaged. Susan and I really enjoyed this co-design process. What made it so memorable for us has been the designing the process together first, and creating a space for participants to share their wisdom. Facilitating the process was easy; there is wisdom in not ‘over-facilitating’ co-design. Sometimes the magic happens by not getting in the way of a group who are passionate and where the purpose is clear and worthwhile. Thanks Daniella and all the best!


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