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The School's internship programme has been enormously successful since it was initiated in 2018. Not only has it encouraged career progression in academic primary care, it has enhanced opportunities to publish and present research, improved exposure to inter-disciplinary research environments, and provided research departments with insights from the medical students under their supervision. 

The programme has enabled medical school students to join research teams across all nine of our partner departments resulting in some extraordinary benefits. Research topics and teams have been diverse and expertise has spanned a range of areas, allowing interns to work within medical education, epidemiology, and health statistics, to name a few. They have learnt a variety of methodologies, and developed the skills required to design and undertake a research project.

Find out more about the programme and research undertaken by our interns here: https://www.spcr.nihr.ac.uk/news/spcr-internships-changing-impressions-of-primary-care-research

Jessica Ying-Yi Xie talks about her success on the programme and what she has learnt

Jessica has balanced a clear focus and aim with enthusiasm to take up opportunities that have evolved along the way. The SPCR internship programme has offered significant support and inspiration, offering the space and opportunity to connect and learn from a range of primary care practice and research. "
- Sophie Park

Jessica is an incoming final-year medical student at University College London (UCL). She was selected onto the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) summer student internship programme in 2018 at the UCL Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health (PCPH) under the supervision of Dr Sophie Park (Director of Medical Education for Primary Care and Community) and Dr Shoba Poduval. Prior to the internship, Jessica intercalated in Medical Sciences with Primary Health Care at UCL.

What inspired you to conduct research in nutrition and medical education?

As part of my iBSc, I spent one year in General Practice, shadowing every member of the Primary Health Care team. I observed good (and some not-so-good) examples of the use of lifestyle medicine in the management of ill-health in clinical practice. There were also times during consultations when I felt that it would have been appropriate for the healthcare professional to discuss diet and exercise with the patient, but these topics were not raised. These experiences made me reflect on the current MBBS curriculum. In pre-clinical medical training, I had been taught in lectures that lifestyle interventions are first-line for the management of many diseases and medical conditions, such as hypertension. However, as a third-year iBSc student on clinical placement I felt unsure about how to sensitively raise the subject of healthy eating and exercise with patients and how to give appropriate lifestyle advice.

I did some background research and found that many medical students and doctors in the UK also did not feel able to counsel patients about diet. Digging a bit deeper, I discovered that there was a lack of clinically-relevant nutrition teaching in UK medical school curricula.

I came across Culinary Medicine. Founded in the USA, it is the art of teaching doctors and medical students about nutrition and how to apply those principles and knowledge to clinical practice.

This was featured on BBC London (28 Jul 2020).

How did your internship programme come about?

At the time of my internship, Bristol medical school had just launched a Culinary Medicine Student-Selected Component (SSC). When I was accepted onto the internship programme, I was informed by my project co-supervisors that UCL was going to introduce Culinary Medicine into the MBBS curriculum. It was then that I designed a cross-sectional questionnaire study to gather medical students’ expectations for Culinary Medicine learning with a view to informing development of a course at UCL medical school.

The Culinary Medicine course was featured on BBC London on 28 July 2020.

What research outputs and engagement activities have you been involved in?

UCL Medical School student magazine recently reached out to me to understand more about the new Culinary Medicine course. I wrote an article (please see pages 9 - 10)

In June 2020, I was featured on a Nutritank podcast about my Culinary Medicine research (it will be released later this year).

My fantastic project co-supervisors introduced me to the Culinary Medicine UK and Nutritank teams. We have subsequently formed a research collaborative and are currently working on exciting projects, which will be revealed soon.

In other engagements, I have delivered talks about my experience of the iBSc (with particular focus on the research element) to an audience of medical students, GP tutors and PCPH staff at the UCL General Practitioner Tutor’s Conference in 2019. I also shared my experiences of the iBSc with prospective iBSc students at a ‘GP and the Community’ SSC seminar, and contributed to designing the ‘GP and the Community’ SSC itself.

Have you published any research?

My iBSc research has been published in BMJ Open: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/4/e028035

Have you had the opportunity to present your work?

I have presented my research in both oral and poster presentations at departmental, regional and national conferences (2019-20).

Have you won any awards?

I won second place (highly commended) for my most recent poster presentation at the RCGP Discover GP London Conference (February, 2020). I am mentioned on the RCGP website.

I was highly commended for my iBSc dissertation (2018) and won first-place in the PCPH Research Paper of Year Competition 2019 (2020). The latter competition received entrants from both staff and students in the PCPH department.

How do you hope to continue with this work?

I am extremely grateful to my two fantastic supervisors, Professor Sophie Park and Dr Shoba Poduval, for supporting me at every stage of this project; they helped me to develop my ideas further, offered me opportunities to showcase my work and connected me with other like-minded researchers."
- Jessica Ying-Yi Xie

I thoroughly enjoy the work that I do. I plan to continue to conduct research in Primary Care, nutrition/ Culinary Medicine and medical education, and to strengthen my working relationships with Culinary Medicine UK and Nutritank.

I am constantly seeking new opportunities for personal and academic development. I recently joined the Journal of the National Student Association of Medical Research team as a Submissions Editor, so am excited to explore the ‘other side’ of academic publishing!

What would you like to specialise in?

I am hoping to pursue paediatrics in the future.

Jessica's supervisor Sophie Park comments

"It has been a pleasure to support Jessica in her development as a clinical academic. Jessica has demonstrated sustained energy, tenacity and commitment in her work. Jessica has balanced a clear focus and aim with enthusiasm to take up opportunities that have evolved along the way. The SPCR internship programme has offered significant support and inspiration, offering the space and opportunity to connect and learn from a range of primary care practice and research. 

The integration of lifestyle medicine with an evidence-based approach, has underpinned our approach to teaching culinary medicine within our general practice placement. We have aimed to connect experiential knowledge (in the kitchen) with discussion of relevant evidence. Second, to integrate students' knowledge of disease, with a curiosity about patient's well-being and health, and the relationship between the two. This course has aimed to empower students with knowledge about how to engage in realistic and supportive exploration of 'lifestyle factors', equipped with knowledge of the current evidence, and training in motivational interviewing techniques to support patients (and often staff and students too!) to consider feasible change. 

Having a motivated and committed student 'stakeholder' embedded in the development and evaluation of a new course, has been very constructive. Student feedback has been really positive, and we are grateful to Jessica for her scholarly role within the course development.” 

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Connect with Jessica via Twitter: @jessicayxie 

or Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-ying-yi-xie/)