Andrew Carroll was one of approximately ten medical students in first and second year at NUI Galway to participate on the Special Study Module. As part of the module, Andrew and his fellow medical students taught CPR to schoolchildren in the Galway region. The coordinator of the Special Study Modules, Dr Gerald Flaherty maintains the Special Study Module brings medical students and children together in a highly beneficial capacity for all concerned. "We train our students how to teach CPR, then they pass on this skill to the students attending these schools. The hope is that some day these students could either practice the skills themselves in a cardiac arrest scenario, or they could teach other people how to perform the skill, so this is a very worthwhile initiative."
There are 13 innovative SSMs that are of tremendous benefit to the School of Medicine, the local community and the university. Other SSMs include a Sign Language Special Study Module, a Teenage Mental Health Promotion Module and a Homelessness Project.
The supervisor of the Sign Language Module is Mr Stephen Curran, who is also Chairperson of the Galway Deaf Centre. Mr Curran is hard of hearing himself. He's fluent in sign language, and teaches the students sign language relevant for clinical practice.
Dr Flaherty notes that these are very interesting classes. "When you enter them, the place is completely silent, and you're just seeing non verbal communication. It's really wonderful for the students, because Stephen does teach them the nuances of communication, so our students are learning a lot. They also feel much more ready to interact with deaf or hard of hearing patients," he remarked.
These learning outcomes were also used enterprisingly in a community dimension when the sign language group attend meetings of the Galway Deaf Club. Dr Flaherty said, "They're going to take blood pressure readings from the people who attend and they're going to be communicating with them all the time through sign language. So it will give them an opportunity to practice the skills they've learned in the classroom here, and it will also be of benefit to the community."
The Special Study Module (SSM) is a unique and innovative way to give something back to the community. The programme is extremely beneficial for both the students and the children as it helps to build interpersonal skills, offers children the chance to learn vitally important life saving techniques and builds sustainable relationships between the university and the wider community. The community partners involved are local secondary schools in the city environs and both primary and secondary schools in the County Galway region, so quite a large area is covered. The academic supervisors who play an instrumental role in supporting the students and organising the module are Dr Gerald Flaherty, Dr Maureen Kelly and Dr Barry O'Donovan from the discipline of General Practice. Andrew believes the CPR classes are vitally important as they give children the confidence to save lives. "The 14 and 15 year olds we taught really enjoyed it and they learnt a lot. It can be a matter of life and death and it takes so little time to teach."
The SSMs have only been in operation for two years and both the university and the various community partners are working together to ensure the best possible results. Dr Flaherty says that the students express their preference for their favoured SSMs in Semester One. They submit a one-page testimonial justifying their choice and they also choose five SSMs from a total of 13, listing them in preferential order.
Andrew said there was never a doubt as to which SSM he would choose. He has a background in life saving, having trained for three years as a lifeguard. He would spend a few hours in Leisureland every Sunday, dividing his time equally between the pool and practicing life saving techniques. According to Andrew, one of the real benefits is you can constantly see the progress being made with the CPR classes. "You're confident that if they saw something happen, they would know what to do so it is really rewarding."
The CPR classes are taught in both English and Irish speaking schools, an aspect of the module which Dr Flaherty is very supportive of and would like to see expanded. Dr Flaherty says he is delighted that Irish speaking schools in Gaeltacht areas are also being given the opportunity to learn CPR, and he is hopeful that more students can be assigned to these schools in future years. "Originally, we tried to include as many Irish speaking schools as possible. So when the students are assigned to this module, we ask those who are comfortable speaking Irish if they wouldn't mind being sent to an Irish speaking school. There are a lot of Gael Scoileanna now in Galway, and some schools in the Gaeltacht, but it's quite a small number of students we send to volunteer. We hope in the future to be able to expand this."
Dr Flaherty says that if more medical students came from Gaeltacht areas, it would be fantastic to teach the various Special Study Modules in the native tongue. "Irish speaking schools are often neglected because a lot of people don't have the language proficiency. It's an important objective of mine to improve the access of Gaeltacht students to medical school, and also to address their healthcare needs more, because it is very easy to neglect them. One percent of our students come from the Gaeltacht, which is too low." Andrew mentioned that both he and his colleagues attempt to teach the children in an informative but fun way. The programme lasts for between eight and ten weeks in total and Andrew and his fellow students visited a number of different schools such as the Presentation Convent primary school in Tuam to educate children in administering CPR.
For Andrew, the module offers a great opportunity for the students to engage with local children, and is also a great opportunity for the students to learn crucially important life saving techniques. "It prolongs life for those vital few minutes until paramedics get there, so it's vital for the community."
While only nine or ten schools per year are able to avail of the CPR classes, he hopes the programme can be broadened to incorporate more classes and to increase visits to a diversifying number of schools.
At the moment, four weeks is spent completing preparatory work for the CPR classes, while another four weeks is spent visiting the schools and teaching the classes. Andrew says that in the future, it is hoped that the amount of time teaching CPR can be increased on the programme. Research shows 90 per cent of school children are able to direct people to do CPR but only 40 per cent are actually physically competent. "Every day people have strokes and heart attacks, and the module is designed to preserve life and educate young people," concluded Andrew.