Curriculum Reform at Trinity College – Dublin, Ireland

Sara Sotiraks, Ciara Black, Sara Bocchinfuso, and Madeline Chidiac of Trinity College Dublin developed a student survey that could potentially identify gaps or inconsistencies in family planning curricula and teaching in Ireland. Read this interview to learn how they developed this project, and for tips to help MSFC members initiate similar successful projects.

How did this go from a school-wide project to a country-wide project?

We initially submitted the proposal to the School of Medicine and the heads of the OBGYN department. From there it got passed on to the General Practice department, which led to the addition of two 2-hour seminars on Termination of Pregnancy and LGBTQ+ healthcare. The lecturers who delivered these seminars approached us with the idea to replicate the survey we did across all of the medical schools in Ireland. We have developed the student survey further from our initial one, with slight modifications and additions to the questions. We are also going to survey staff as well, to map out what teaching is currently taking place, find out what challenges they may have faced in implementing such teaching, and to compare the staff perspective on the curriculum with the students.

What could this study mean for medical schools across Ireland?

This study could potentially identify gaps or inconsistencies in teaching across the country. If this is the case, it could provide the evidence base and framework for standardized curriculum enhancements to be made in every school, to ensure graduates from each school in the country are receiving the same curriculum content.

Do you find that having med student support increases responsiveness from admin?
Yes. Showing that these changes are wanted by a large majority of current students by using real data collected from these students strongly supports the need for urgent changes.

What were some of the challenges you faced in this process and how did you overcome them?

Initially the challenge was lack of response from the school. We received communication that the proposal will be considered, but were not given any clear timeline or action plan for when/how this would be done. We continued to follow up with the school and were assured that a curriculum review was underway, and that departments had the freedom to modify/add content if they wish. Once we got to our General Practice module, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the proposal resulted in some positive change! Our school’s curriculum review is still underway (this process takes place every 10 years or so) and we have received word that the proposal will be included in the upcoming curriculum revisions.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a similar study in their region?

A few things:

  • Look into getting ethics approval if you want to administer a survey, so that you may have the option to publish the findings.
  • Find staff members to support you. They are a great connection to have and can provide advice/guidance through the ethics application process. If you are applying to your school’s ethics committee, you also may need a staff supervisor.
  • Target your sample population. We surveyed students from all years. This was great for the opinion section of the survey, to find out what teaching students from all years would like to see, but for the portion of our survey which assessed the current curriculum it was challenging for students in the early years to comment as they would not have had teaching in these areas yet or know what teaching they are due to receive later on. Figure out what your survey focus is and target your survey population accordingly.

MSFC believes that abortion and family planning training should be a standard part of all medical school curricula. Visit our Curriculum Reform webpage to learn more about how chapters have successfully advocated for the inclusion of abortion and reproductive health education into their curricula, and to find resources to support your chapter’s work.

School of Medicine at the University of Dublin, Trinity College