From Melbourne to Timor-Leste: Dr. Sean Stevens

The Master of Surgical Education took Dr Sean Stevens as far as Timor-Leste, where he explored the challenges of implementing a surgical training program within a developing country.

A general surgeon, Dr Stevens keeps busy in his role in the Clinical Education Unit at Austin Health in Heidelberg, Victoria.

As Supervisor Prevocational Surgical Training, he looks after surgical trainees who haven’t yet started a formal surgical training program. He says postgraduate study helped give him the necessary leg up into this position.

“I got that role because I had done the Master of Surgical Education and it’s proved really helpful,” he says. “The course has given me the knowledge to go about doing this job well.”

Also working as Surgical Clinical Supervisor for Medical Students at the Austin Clinical School at the University of Melbourne, Dr Stevens says the skills and knowledge base he gained in the course has meant he has “been able to gradually make changes to the program over time, to improve it”.

He completed his Master of Surgical Education at the University of Melbourne in 2018.

“I found that with each subject I did, I became more interested in the field,” he says.

“A really helpful skill I refined throughout the course is how to deliver feedback. It’s a very common task we have to do as educators, but how to give it in a way that is most effective can be difficult.

“Having insights into that process has allowed me to design and deliver feedback a lot more effectively.”

For the research component of the course, Dr Stevens chose to combine his interests in public health and education. His minor thesis took him to Timor-Leste to research how to deliver surgical training programs in a developing country.

“Throughout my previous study in public health, I began to realise the main role an Australian surgeon can have in low-income countries is supporting those countries in developing their education and training programs,” he says.

“Timor is at a point where they are developing a local training program, rather than having to send people overseas to do their training. But the challenge they have is their local surgeons are not necessarily trained themselves in how to be teachers or educators.

“There’s an expectation to teach, but they may not have the experience or knowledge in how to go about writing a curriculum or running a training program.”

He spent two weeks in the country, observing and interviewing people on the ground.

Dr Stevens says the design of the Master of Surgical Education program is accommodating of work and life commitments and it is easy to dip in and out of study if needed.

“Juggling study and work was challenging but manageable,” he says.

“The way the subjects are designed means that you tend to do a fair amount of work for a week or two and then have time to get back into usual life and other things and then return to study again.

“The nature of the assessments meant that you could focus on study for a while and then step back, which made the workload manageable.”

He found the course was also a good way to build professional networks: “There was a good camaraderie between the students. People were at different stages of their career but the common factor between all of us was an interest in education, so we all got along quite well, and it was good to share experiences.”

Since completing the Master of Surgical Education, Dr Stevens has continued his research interests and is now pursuing a PhD on a similar topic.

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