“When I started my paediatric oncology training, there were people in newly-developed posts called ‘learning mentors’ that acted as a bridge between schools, universities and the young people undergoing treatment. As barely more than a youth myself, I was vaguely unsure of why people would want to do ‘school’.
Obviously, as a nerd that had worked hard to get into medical school and then out again into ‘doctoringness’, I knew I’d like it. But I considered myself odd.
Nearly every young person who passed through the hands of those mentors gained by integrating with education. Whether using maths puzzles to distract from feeling sick, creating dramatic biological art to demonstrate what was going on inside them, or taking exams on palliative chemotherapy; the learning, development and achievements were hugely important building blocks in their lives. An allowance to submit more coursework – perhaps undertaken in the isolation suite following a stem-cell transplant – or a quiet place to do an exam while having infusional chemotherapy was as meaningful as analgesia and laxatives.
After being able to take part in our regional ‘Teachers Day’, an event for professionals working in schools who have children affected by cancer or their siblings, I saw the situation from a teachers’ point of view.
It’s scary for teachers and others working in schools. Their only experience of cancers may be from their own, older, relatives, or stories from TV and film. Through education of the educators though, work undertaken by a huge range of individuals in the multidisciplinary teams we work with, these fears can be addressed and overcome.
It doesn’t always work perfectly.
Every child and young person has a right to education and an expectation that reasonable adjustments should be made to deliver the learning they need in a way they can access. It’s my experience that nearly every health care and education professional wants that to be true, and will work their socks off to make it happen”.
Dr Bob Phillips is Senior Academic Consultant at University of York and Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at Leeds General Infirmary. He is also a CCLG member.
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