Thursday, 11 February 2016

"I Decided to Write a Short Textbook" - Tom Dalton's Story

Tom Dalton is a final year medical student in his sixth year of university following an intercalation in neuroscience. In 2015 he was awarded the Royal College of Psychiatry’s Pathfinder Fellowship to enable him to undertake a psychiatry project. I had the pleasure of talking to him about his latest psychiatric enterprising venture.

Tom, what enterprising activity have you recently undertaken?
I decided to write a short textbook for medical students about mental illness. I’m a final year medic myself, and while I’ve been at Birmingham I noticed some gaps in Psychiatry teaching in the MBChB curriculum, so I decided I should try and fill them. The book is about 40 pages long, and when I’ve finished this draft I’m hoping to get it published using a grant from the Royal College of Psychiatrists

So what gap is the textbook trying to fill?
Partly the problem is that we don’t get enough teaching on mental illness. In second year we have one or two lectures on depression, schizophrenia and addiction, and during the Psychiatry rotation we have a few more, which I don’t feel is really enough considering these illnesses are such colossal global problems. And many students get no teaching on self-harm, eating disorders or personality disorders, among other things.
And on top of that, I don’t think the teaching we do get is up to the standard of teaching on other specialities. We learn lists of the symptoms and some neurobiology, but to actually understand these illnesses you really need to be told what suffering from them is like.
The textbook I have written aims to provide meaningful descriptions of mental illness so students can actually get into the mindset and understand what the reality of the symptoms mean for the people on a day-to-day level.

"I think enterprise is when you find an idea...  
and carry it through."

How did you go about writing?
"The book is about 40 pages long, and when
I’ve finished this draft I’m hoping to get it published"
I gave a lecture on some of the topics earlier this year and decided I would write up a comprehensive set of notes and after a few months adding more and more to the notes it became so long that I decided to turn it into a proper book.

What do you hope this textbook will achieve?
I’m hoping students will actually enjoy reading it because it’s quite short and written in an informal style, with a couple of jokes included! I’m also hoping it will make more people interested in psychiatry and that they understand mental illness slightly better, then if they were only taught a list of symptoms and brain chemistry. I am hoping it will be used beyond Birmingham if I can get it published and demonstrate its usefulness as a very short introduction to psychiatry for medical students across the country.

What advice would you give to other students who have a particular passion for their subject?
Although the medical degree is a tough one, I think you can be quite flexible with your time on placement. If you’re really passionate about a particular area, you can always find time to pursue that interest on placement without worrying that you won’t be able to fit the other necessary learning in.

What does enterprise mean to you?

I never thought I would be capable of writing a whole textbook but I had an idea I was excited about and just ran with it. I think enterprise is when you find an idea like that and carry it through.

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