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In this term's “spotlight interview”, Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Kate Saunders, discusses student welfare, working with GP colleagues and the huge value of cross-specialty teaching.

Profile picture of Kate Saunders

Kate, could you give us an overview of your university and medical school roles? 
I’m a general adult psychiatrist and clinical academic. With Professor Gabriele de Luca, I co-lead the Brain and Behaviour course in year 5 of the medical school and am also the Associate Director of Pre-Clinical Studies (welfare & curriculum). My research focusses on how we can improve the phenotyping of psychiatric disorders in order to make earlier and more precise diagnoses, personalise care, support self-management and generate new treatment targets. More recently, this has extended to student mental health. With colleagues in Exeter, Cardiff, Newcastle and King’s, I’m working on a series of studies exploring trajectories of wellbeing among undergraduates, mental health literacy, digital interventions and the compassionate campus.

As Associate Director of Pre-Clinical Studies for Welfare, what advice would you give GP tutors who may be concerned about a student who seems to be struggling? 
 Notice and gently explore what’s going on for the student. If they don’t want to talk about it that’s fine, but the fact you’ve noticed may be intervention enough. Keep the offer of support open and do signpost them to the medical school, their college welfare team and/or their own GP. 
You've been involved in teaching on several of our Primary Care courses this year. How have you found the experience? 
 We also have GPs who join us in teaching on the Psychiatry course and the experience of working in collaboration with Primary Care has been hugely positive. Mental health is such a significant part of the workload in Primary Care I don’t think you can teach Psychiatry in isolation from it. Much of our education is inevitably delivered within, rather than across, specialties. As a result, I’m not sure students always have an awareness of the extent to which we work together or some of the structural challenges, which while not medical per se, have a huge impact on the care we are able to provide. I also think as two specialties who are community-based, we share a broader set of approaches and challenges and it’s great to have the opportunity to present those from our respective perspectives.
What do you think about disciplines working together to teach medical students? 
It’s essential we work together and in doing so model multiple approaches and perspectives to ensure that our students have a radar that extends beyond the whatever specialty choice they go on to make. There is huge value in looking beyond traditional medical disciplines too. I’m very fortunate to work with allied health professionals, colleagues in the arts and humanities and, most importantly, patients in teaching medical students.

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