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Professor Sudhesh Kumar: Supporting students and leading WMS through the pandemic

Professor Sudhesh Kumar is Dean of Warwick Medical School (WMS) and a clinical endocrinologist by background (treating diseases related to hormone problems). He also has several other external roles in the NHS. Sudhesh is passionate about supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds who wish to pursue a medical career.


How has the pandemic affected WMS and what adaptations were put in place to cope?

Our three main goals were to continue producing medical graduates without impairment, deliver essential research that has a positive impact on people’s lives and support our local NHS during the crisis by redeploying staff to NHS providers. We also had almost 520 students working to support our local NHS.

Our early preparedness and agility when we initially identified the risks of Covid helped us to cope better than most of our peers. We were already setting ourselves up for online learning and home working before the government lockdown took place. Our approach to student employment in NHS was innovative and enabled us to get students working in the NHS long before the national programme to graduate students early managed to actually deploy students in the NHS.


How have WMS staff and students made a positive contribution during the pandemic?

I couldn’t have asked for more. Many staff and students volunteered for the NHS and in their local communities, while clinical researchers took on additional clinical work alongside their busy schedules. Our staff developed innovative ideas including diagnostic tests, new treatments, and ways of handling Covid.

As a department, we contributed lots of equipment, materials, and facilities to the NHS, including the onsite Covid testing centre at the University Hospital Campus, which is a WMS laboratory. We also supported other departments in similar endeavours.


What have been the biggest challenges for you in leading WMS through the pandemic?

Keeping the sense of community and team spirit alive has been challenging, especially with the transactional nature of virtual meetings. So many of our systems and procedures have had to change with such speed, and that has been a challenge we’ve successfully overcome to a large measure.


Having led WMS through the pandemic, what achievements are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of how we improved the experience we offered to our students despite challenging conditions. Our National Student Survey (NSS) results are higher now than ever before and we’re one of only five schools in the UK that saw an improvement in results during the pandemic. We also launched two new undergraduate programmes, commissioned and occupied the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building (IBRB), parented a new medical school (Chester Medical School) and launched two new postgraduate international programmes.


April 2020: Medical students volunteer to join the NHS fight against COVID-19 across Coventry and Warwickshire


What’s the best thing about working at WMS?

I’m surrounded by a team of skilled and dedicated staff. We have an incredibly talented group of students who enrich the working environment, both in terms of research and education. My talented colleagues and students are the two best bits for me. .


How do you think the pandemic has shaped how we’ll deliver education in the future?

It’s already had a profound impact in forcing us to embrace the digitalisation of education. There has also been a shift in the way medicine is practised – clinicians now often undertaking consultations remotely. The pandemic has significantly sped up the pace at which we create change, with research trials now taking place within a matter of days of applications being submitted and approved. This agility is enabling us to find solutions to healthcare problems much more quickly as solutions are needed urgently and we must not waste resources through unnecessary bureaucracy.


How would you encourage other alumni to support Warwick?

Across the UK, medical schools tend to attract more privileged students, but we need doctors from a broad range of backgrounds to fully understand the lives of patients. A more diverse workforce enhances the quality of service the NHS can provide. As a graduate entry level Medical School, WMS can attract students from a wider range of backgrounds, many of whom have come from other sectors. However, at a later stage in life, many such students often have greater financial difficulties.

I don’t want any students to miss out on the opportunity to become a great doctor because of their background. That’s what motivated me to personally support medical students who may be in financial need.

Why is it important that research taking place in the Institute for Global Pandemic Planning continues to be supported as we emerge from the pandemic?

I think the current pandemic will occupy current researchers for a long time, but we need to be alive to the possibility of more pandemics in the future and be better prepared for when that time comes. It’s only by undertaking research now that we can be on the front foot for similar situations in the future.


What motivates you to give to Warwick?

There are plenty of worthy things that people can give to, such as student support and much needed research on health and biomedical challenges to improve lives. It’s an easy process with many ways to give and it’s so accessible through events such as Giving Day. Most importantly it makes a big positive difference.


How would you encourage more staff to give back to Warwick?

It is, of course, influenced by personal circumstances, but I believe most staff at Warwick are passionate about their work and the outcomes of education or research. If you share those values, this is another way to contribute to society. It’s such a worthwhile cause and, like I said before, it’s very easy to do.