October 2014 | ISSUE 14
Generalist approach takes Professor Gunnar Nilsson far

By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations

gunnar_nilsson_090611_fotol.jpgHe may only be halfway through his teaching sabbatical in Singapore, but Professor Gunnar Nilsson already knows he has to come back.

“I will have to come back for intellectual, emotional and practical reasons,” said Karolinska Institutet’s (KI) incoming Pro-Dean of Higher Education, who hopes that his time at LKCMedicine will further strengthen ties between the two medical institutions.

The Professor of General Medicine with an emphasis on medical informatics is one of several Swedish educators who has received funding from the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) for a teaching sabbatical.

STINT aims to stimulate exchanges between Swedish and foreign universities in research and education in a range of countries, including the US, Hong Kong and Singapore. The teaching sabbatical is an opportunity for educators and their family to broaden their experience and bring back new ideas to assist in and inform the development of Swedish faculties and universities.

“STINT is a wonderful opportunity for me to broaden my experience,” said Prof Nilsson.

Prof Nilsson chose LKCMedicine because of its student-centred approach to medical education, Team-Based Learning (TBL) and innovative use of technology.

“At KI, we’ve moved away from a lot of lecturing and have built our curriculum on seminars and co-working. We are keen to develop a more student-centric curriculum and TBL is new to us,” said Prof Nilsson.

“I’m also interested in how the School uses technology to enhance the curriculum – from curriculum mapping to learning analytics and E-Learning. In Sweden, we still have quite a lot to do on this front,” said Prof Nilsson.

Going beyond the scope of his programme, he hopes to observe clinical work in action, be involved in collaborative medical education research and get a flavour of how faculty development is done here.

Prof Nilsson’s wide-ranging interests mirror his multifaceted career path. While working as a general practitioner, he branched out into research in the then newly-emerging field of medical informatics.

After more than two decades in general practice, some 50,000 patient encounters and several research projects and publications, Prof Nilsson realised that something was still missing. “And that something was education,” he said. “Having three legs to stand on makes you more stable. Bringing medicine, research and education together made sense. I guess it’s the generalist in me.”

He completed his PhD on classification and reuse of clinical information in general practice, before he joined KI as a senior lecturer in 2003, rising rapidly through the ranks. He became professor in 2008 and took on the role of head of the medical undergraduate programme the next year.

After two three-year terms at the helm, Prof Nilsson decided to add another aspect to his professional life – ‘internationalisation’. “Coming abroad for a teaching sabbatical was the next step to broaden my professional outlook. Before coming to Singapore, I’ve never spent more than a week outside of Stockholm for work!” said Prof Nilsson.

While at LKCMedicine, Prof Nilsson is co-teaching different TBL sessions where he contributes his expertise and insights. “Rather than teaching a module I teach at home, I was advised by former STINT fellows to co-teach to make the most of the experience,” said Prof Nilsson.

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Prof Nilsson speaking to the Year 1s during Polyclinic Week

As a family physician, he also followed Polyclinic Week with great interest. “Teaching at Bukit Batok Polyclinic, I felt immediately at home,” said Prof Nilsson. “I will also have the opportunity to observe polyclinic doctors at work, which I’m looking forward to as it is both familiar and different from what I'm used to.”

In addition, he is contributing ideas, experiences and views to the curriculum mapping and E-Learning projects the School is working on. “I hope in my time here to contribute a bit to the development work on curriculum mapping. We need to find ways to better use technology to display the very complex content of the programme in an accessible and easy to understand format that can be used by students, teachers and other stakeholders.”

Full of inspiration, Prof Nilsson hopes to bring back new ideas. “At LKCMedicine, I have been met with a very welcoming and open atmosphere. The School values educational development and innovation, which means new projects can flourish.

“I really hope what I will bring back from here will bear fruit, even more so with my new role,” added Prof Nilsson, who will go back to oversee all aspects of education of the 20-odd undergraduate programmes at KI.