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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Dr Sharmila Jandial

Sharmila JandialDr Sharmila Jandial is an Arthritis Research UK educational research fellow at the University of Newcastle.

What does your work involve?

I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK educational research fellowship looking at how to improve paediatric musculoskeletal education for medical students and have taken time out of my medical training as a specialist registrar in paediatrics. I applied for this fellowship as I feel it's important that all doctors are trained to assess the musculoskeletal system in children. Children commonly get sore joints or muscles, often related to activity and trauma. However, their complaints can also be due to more serious conditions such as childhood arthritis, and doctors need to be aware of this and know how to distinguish the worrying conditions (that require treatment) from self-limiting conditions such as minor trauma. As many doctors will be treating children in their early years after graduation, either in general practice or hospital medicine, they need to be taught these skills as medical students.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Since September 2007. The work I've been funded for follows on from other Arthritis Research UK-funded projects which have looked specifically at examination of the musculoskeletal system in children, both developed here in Newcastle. We produced a DVD to be used by health professionals as a screening tool to assess children for musculoskeletal problems.

What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?

The discovery of how diverse paediatric musculoskeletal teaching is at present. Within UK medical schools, this features quite extensively in some but in others not at all! Interestingly, those in charge of teaching child health do think that these clinical skills are important but perceive them as badly taught. This is something that should be changed, which is where this project comes in.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

I'd love to see all medical students being taught how to assess children with musculoskeletal problems and acquiring a baseline knowledge about conditions such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). They'd then go on to be better informed hospital doctors and GPs.

What do you do in a typical day?

So far in this project, I've been meeting and interviewing representatives from medical specialties involved in the care of children – orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, paediatricians, primary care doctors, emergency doctors and medical students – to explore their views on what should be taught. As well as this, I'm involved in teaching paediatric musculoskeletal medicine at a variety of levels: medical students, junior doctors in training, consultants and primary care doctors. Regular paediatric rheumatology clinics and clinical meetings are important for me to attend. I also have research commitments such as deadlines for abstracts and papers, preparing presentations and supervising medical students working on allied research projects. Some weeks are very busy!

What's your greatest research achievement?

Getting all those different specialties to meet for interviews and focus groups was a challenge at times. This kind of study hasn’t been done before in paediatric musculoskeletal education so to get not just their attendance but also agreement that this was an important issue is something I’m particularly pleased about. By finding out what skills and knowledge are seen as important by each group, the final teaching package will be much more relevant and representative of real-life practice. Having fed some of this information into my current teaching, with good results, the prognosis for the final product is (tentatively) promising.

Why did you choose to do this work?

This work perfectly combines my interests within education and paediatric rheumatology and I particularly enjoy working on improving the patient–doctor experience. Being able to build upon the experience already developed in educational research here in Newcastle made this work even more appealing and has certainly helped me to develop as a researcher.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Many of our patients tell us that there's a lack of awareness about JIA, both within the general public and within the healthcare sphere. If we can raise awareness of musculoskeletal conditions that affect children, and ensure that healthcare professionals have the appropriate skills to assess children with musculoskeletal problems, this situation should improve. Ultimately, this may help to ensure that children with arthritis are diagnosed earlier and treated soon after their symptoms develop, thus improving their pain, function and outlook.

What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/researcher?

The life of a travel journalist has always appealed…as has the life of a personal shopper! But I enjoy people contact too much – maybe a teacher?

About Sharmila

Travel and shopping are a must. Meeting up with friends and family is very important to me and keeps me happy and sane!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2008, issue 141.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.