Last week we held a conference at UCL to mark the end of our first School Volunteering Programme – ‘Your Health, Your Evidence 2017‘ – and what a resounding success it was too! Attended by mixture of A-level school students, teachers, academic staff and university students, this conference was a way of both giving back and gaining feedback from the programme’s participants (see right, “if you plan it, they will come” – Clarke, 2017).
The whole afternoon went like so…
To kick things off our Impact and Public Engagement Manager, Charlie Norell (i.e. me), gave a quick welcome talk. This included a brief intro to Evidence-based medicine and EBM+. I was actually quite nervous about this, given that lots of EBM+ consortium members would all be present to hear me wrongly describe our project in front of 80+ people – luckily this either didn’t happen, or they chose not to tell me if I did…(see me below sporting one of our new, and rather fetching, EBM+ T-shirts).
First Keynote Speaker – David Healy
The first Keynote speaker, Dr. David Healy, gave an eye-opening (and downright concerning!) account of how bias manifests itself within clinical research, specifically regarding SSRI’s and psychotropic drugs. David detailed the RCT case of Paroxetine as a test treatment for depression in adolescents, shedding light on the problems of ghostwriting, ‘doctoring data’ and pervasive techniques to hide confounders. David concluded with a motivational message for our next generation of doctors to question these kinds of evidential regimes, even if this may lead to difficult choices. My favourite quotes from David’s talk went something like, “RCTs are only the ‘gold standard’ for drug companies when it comes to hiding adverse risks of drugs without any fraud” and “All RCTs do harm, some may also benefit” (for David’s slides, get in touch).
Second Keynote Speaker – Mike Kelly
The second keynote was our very own EBM+ consortium member, Professor Mike Kelly and titled, “Scientific Evidence and Political Power: Fake news is not so new after all!”. Mike’s talk was similarly engaging and striking. It outlined key factors contributing to public health problems, most of which are preventable, such as alcohol, tobacco, drug use and lack of physical activity. Mike gave a personal account from his time spent at NICE formulating guidelines to tackle high rates of alcohol consumption and misuse. Although this was a number of years ago, one could sense Mike’s frustration in that, to gain knowledge and evidence about a given problem does not, in any way, promise swift and effective policy interventions as a result. It was also astounding to hear how off-the-mark newspapers were when reporting on the apparently ‘conflicting’ relationship between NICE and the UK government – hence, fake news isn’t so new after all! (again, contact us if you want to see Mike’s slides).
Overall, as two master’s of their craft and experts in their field, both keynotes were fantastic. David and Mike really demonstrated how and why we must be critical towards scientific evidence. All attendees and especially the school students were left with the important message that, should we remain actively rational and pursue this level of discourse, much improvement can done for patient safety and public health outcomes.
School Student Group Presentations
Next up, the school student presentations. These included:
- JFS Group 1: Acne – Causes, Diagnosis and Treatments.
- JFS Group 2: Eating Disorders – Biological and Environmental Causes
- Oaklands School: The Advantages and Disadvantages of EBM
- Kings Langley School: Cancer Treatments – Patient Wishes versus Evidence-bases
- Wallington County Grammar School: Drugs, EBM and Mental Health
These student presentations were very impressive, and without even considering their lack of presenting experience alongside the nerve-racking size of the audience. This really was an outstanding achievement which they can look back at proudly and use to progress towards university and future careers paths.
The last session of the afternoon was the Volunteer Panel. Starting from the left (see below) the panelists were: James McGilligan, Victor Choi, Yi Xin Tan and Mirna Saade, and chairing the panel was Dr. Phyllis Illari (another EBM+ extraordinaire).
The purpose of this panel was to hear first-hand perspectives from those on-the-ground, going into schools, planning the workshops and engaging with the school students about EBM. We heard why volunteers at UCL would choose a programme like YHYE, what they gained from it and, perhaps most importantly, how we can improve the programme for next year. Given that our volunteers were (and still are) in the height of exam season, their commitment and enthusiasm towards YHYE shone through and they communicated their views brilliantly.
EBM+ ‘Your Health, Your Evidence’ T-shirts!
As mentioned and illustrated in some of the photos above, we had EBM+ T-shirts made for the YHYE2017 conference. Now, we realise they’re not quite as articulate as those from CauseHealth (which we’re very jealous of, by the way), but nonetheless, we couldn’t help but design T-shirts to be given to the school students, volunteers and numerous staff members, all of whom made the programme a success. We hope these T-shirts will be worn with pride (but probably not in public) as a token EBM+’s gratitude and as something to remember us by (see below – excuse the creases).
Your Health, Your Evidence 2.0
Finally, we are running this programme again next year and it’s only going to get bigger and better! If this year’s experience was any indication of what’s to come, then we’re in for a real treat. So, we start recruiting volunteers and partner schools over this summer and throughout the first term in September. Once recruitment is over, we’ll train up our volunteers in the weeks before winter holidays. After the new year, our volunteer groups go into schools and engage with their school students through a series of workshops. We plan to add more volunteers, more schools, more workshops and a more solid structure to ensure Your Health, Your Evidence runs smoothly on a larger scale.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!