February 2016 | Issue 22


Meet Professor Desmond Johnston, LKCMedicine’s newest Governing Board member

Editors photo.jpg

By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations

At the newly opened medical school, the inaugural cohort was just starting in its third year. The atmosphere was one full of excitement. Everything was bright and novel. Everyone involved gave their all and then some to make sure that the new school would be a success. That's how Professor Desmond Johnston described the then-newly formed medical school at the University of Southampton, whose teaching hospital he joined as a junior doctor.

"And that's something I feel here too. You can tell the excitement. There's a little bit of insecurity, which is very healthy, and a determination to get things right on both sides, from LKCMedicine and Imperial," observed Prof Johnston on his first visit to LKCMedicine as Governing Board Member in December 2015.

Prof Johnston, who was appointed Vice-Dean for Education at the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial in November 2015, got a whirl-wind tour of LKCMedicine's innovative curriculum, dual campus model and bespoke facilities, and attended two key events – the Evening with the Deans and the School's fifth anniversary celebration. "From Imperial's point of view, this is a flagship project. We regard the joint degree as exactly the same as an Imperial degree and want LKCMedicine graduates to be interchangeable in terms of quality with Imperial ones," said Prof Johnston.

​Prof Desmond Johnston (fourth from right) with LKCMedicine senior leadership and benefactors at the fifth anniversary event​​

​What particularly impressed him in the curriculum were the early clinical contact and focus on communication skills. Recalling his own experience as a medical undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, Prof Johnston said that his first patient encounter came only in his third year. "I can remember one of the first patients I saw was an old man who had trouble with his waterworks, and I didn't know how to talk to him about it," said Prof Johnston. This awkwardness for both patient and student is something he is confident is not seen when LKCMedicine students interact with patients as they have been learning how to talk to patients from Day One of the MBBS programme.

Another aspect of the curriculum that he felt was particularly important was the Long-Term Patient Project, which also starts in the first year. Seeing patients in their own homes and in the community provides context that can explain motivation, lifestyle and other factors that help to determine an effective care plan. "It is very important to see patients in their homes, especially when you are young, so that you get a context that you can carry forward into your clinical years and beyond," said Prof Johnston.

Having worked closely with LKCMedicine to develop and embed various new and innovative educational initiatives, such as the emphasis on Team-Based Learning, Imperial is now considering the implementation of some of these within its Faculty of Medicine and beyond. "We can learn from a lot of the work that is happening on the educational side at LKCMedicine and are exploring how to adopt those [initiatives] that are relevant and applicable to the London scene," said Prof Johnston.

While the relationship between Imperial and LKCMedicine has been focused on curriculum development, Prof Johnston wants to see the same kind of relationship between the two institutions in other areas, such as research.

Imperial and LKCMedicine have recently set up a student exchange between the respective Year 2 cohorts, and Prof Johnston hopes that the collaboration will continue to facilitate further interactions, such as joint appointments of faculty, jointly planned research programmes, student project opportunities and sabbaticals. "The two most important things in a collaboration are mutual trust and benefit, two aspects that this structure would help nurture and provide," said Prof Johnston. Some joint research projects have already taken off, with areas like public health and metabolomics research taking the lead.

On a personal level, Prof Johnston also hopes to see more opportunities in diabetes research. An endocrinologist by training, he was recently involved in a prospective, randomised, controlled primary prevention trial in India that looked at the efficacy of text messages containing lifestyle advice among people at risk of diabetes. "We demonstrated an increased compliance to lifestyle goals in the group that received the text messages," said Prof Johnston.

Ultimately, the goal for both Imperial and LKCMedicine is to develop ties that benefit both institutions beyond the scope and period of the Collaboration Agreement. Prof Johnston said, "Put simply, I, and Imperial, would like to see the relationship endure and the excellence to continue." ​