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Embedding creativity and innovation into medicine

May 10, 2017

​“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” – Dr Edward De Bono, a renowned author and business consultant

Many medical breakthroughs wouldn’t have been possible without an openness to new approaches to longstanding problems. From vaccines to the development of prosthetic limbs and even 3D printing; advances in modern medicine often depend on an environment that is accepting of unconventional ideas. 

In order to encourage students and medical professionals to explore new ways of thinking and creative approaches to solving healthcare problems, the Critical Creative Innovative Thinking (CCIT) forum and the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME) teamed up to host an all-day symposium, Innovation Day 2017.

Explaining the purpose of the event, Dr Asad Mian, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and lead organiser of the event, said: “Our ultimate ambition is to develop an academic culture inside and outside AKU which is open and welcoming to original ideas. I regularly notice an element of risk aversion in the field today with some young doctors being reluctant to question “established” treatment protocols and some students refraining from speaking up out of fear of criticism.

“The result is that knowledge can harden into doctrines, established procedures can drift into becoming habits and creativity can get lost in routine. One goal of today’s session is to show today’s medical students, trainees and professionals how they can implement critical thinking and unconventional problem-solving skills into their day to day practice so that they are always on the lookout for ways to distinguish themselves through innovation.”

Attended by around 50 medical students, nursing students and professionals, Innovation Day featured a plenary session, panel discussion and workshops facilitated by a diverse range of specialists who shared a background in healthcare and innovation. Divided into three separate sessions focused on Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, these experts demonstrated how the field of medicine can benefit from lateral thinking, a willingness to improve processes and the spirit to learn from testing new approaches. 

In his session, Creativity Consultant Rumman Ahmed showed how participants can train their minds to be more creative. In a workshop co-facilitated with Dr Mian, he demonstrated how to use divergent thinking – which consists of generating a long list of ideas - before moving on to convergent thinking, that is working out which of those ideas work and which don’t. The participants were challenged with a range of problems and urged to focus on the quantity of ideas rather than making judgments about the ‘best’ idea. Mr Ahmed also demonstrated how steps to merge different ideas could result in better solutions. 

Once participants’ creative juices were flowing, they were introduced to some practical applications of creativity. Dr Charles Docherty, the director of the CIME, gave examples of how innovation was both an outcome of, and a way, to deal with constraints. He narrated a story of how a shortage of candles in his native Scotland resulted in him working out a way to use animal fat, or lard, to heat homes in his area. Dr Docherty emphasised that critical thinkers, or innovators, need to be comfortable with finding their own solutions to problems around them.

AKU alumnus Dr Khan Siddiqui, who has several health startups to his credit, spoke by video-link to the crowd and shared a number of personal stories about how he has focused on problem-solving and combining knowledge from different areas throughout his entrepreneurial career. 

In the entrepreneurship workshop, participants honed their skills by working on a case study from the Harvard Business Review. This required participants to apply the lessons learned during the session to breakdown and then re-establish a healthcare-related business plan. 
Dr Walid Farooqi, MBBS ’16 and activity coordinator for CCIT, stated that while the mini-symposium was important for emphasising a culture of innovation, the next step forward could be to develop an elective course focused on biomedical innovation and entrepreneurship within the University’s Humanities and Social Science programme (a set of courses taken before MBBS students begin their medical education). 

He added that other ideas discussed at the event included the creation of a co-shared innovation / incubation space or (an ‘incubator’) for healthcare startups at the University and the possibility of designating ‘champions’ who could support the development of innovative ideas from staff, students and faculty. 

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