Looking Back at the First Year of the RSU Dermatology and Venereology Academic Society
Academic societies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) are non-profit organisations run by and for students with the aim of gaining additional theoretical knowledge and practical skills in a particular medical field.
Founded less than a year ago, the RSU Dermatology and Venereology Academic Society (DVAS) is a new academic society for students interested in dermatovenerology. After attending a theoretical meeting of the Latvian interest group, we (Sevara and Sophie) became motivated to establish an academic society in English to give international students a possibility to become more involved.
While both of us were working in dermatology clinics over the summer, we made our first plans to launch this project in August 2019. At this point we were starting from square one – we didn’t have a mentor or know if there would be enough interest from other students.
We got very excited when Assist. Prof. Elga Sidhoma, the Head of the Department of Dermatology and Venerology, welcomed our plans and agreed to mentor our society. She has been very supportive and full of creative ideas since the very beginning; the perfect mentor for this interest group.
The society officially started in October 2019, when students from various semesters (2-11) attended our first meeting on the department’s premises on Baznīcas iela. During the autumn semester, we held two more theoretical meetings and one practical seminar. On top of this we visited the factory of organic Latvian skin care brand, Madara Cosmetics, and participated in a cream and aroma workshop.
Madara skin care factory tour, November 2019. Photo from private archive.
On the one hand it was important for us to adapt the topics of our meetings to the RSU dermatovenerology curriculum and prepare students who did not have dermatology classes yet, and on the other hand our goal was to introduce common, interdisciplinary topics (for example skin cancer), which is not only of interest for future dermatologists. After the theoretical part of the skin cancer meeting our active members had the chance to train to perform dermoscopies.
Our members trying out dermoscopy, November 2019. Photo from private archive.
Throughout the academic year each active member was challenged to prepare a case presentation, or a presentation on a recent study, as well as to create questions for Kahoot!, a game-based learning platform. Our first practical seminar was about training suturing skills, concentrating mainly on various dermatological suturing techniques and on punch biopsies.
RSU DVAS suturing workshop, December 2019. Photo from private archive.
After a successful first semester we were motivated to plan even more seminars and workshops. With the help of our mentor and doctors from the RSU Radiology Department, we planned a practical seminar on Vascular Ultrasonography. In addition, we wanted to emphasise the positive effects of sports and a balanced lifestyle on the skin. We therefore planned a pilates class with Ms. Kanneniece, a medical gymnastic specialist and pilates instructor.
At this point we didn’t know that the coronavirus pandemic would upend everyone’s plans. Because planned practical seminars could not take place this semester, Asst. Prof. Sidhoma came up with the idea to try organising online webinars using Zoom. Despite all our members living in different time zones, our first webinar in March was a great success, with more than 30 participants attending. A joint online meeting between the Latvian and Lithuanian interest groups was held in April. Due to the positive feedback from our members, we continued with the webinars and closed out the first year of DVAS with one last online meeting in May. In total we held nine meetings this academic year.
Joint online meeting, April 2020. Photo from private archive.
Despite all the fun and stress while organising, we always received great support and positive feedback from all sides: our fellow students, with experience in organising an academic societies, the RSU International Students Association, the RSU Medical Education Technology Centre, and various RSU departments and staff members. We want to thank the core DVAS group and our 18 active members for their presentations and active participation in discussions as well as our mentor for giving up so much of her free time to participate in our meetings.
Being friends made organising DVAS much easier and we are glad that we followed through with this experiment despite some initial concerns. If you never try, you will never know if it might work out – and we are happy that we tried!
Announcing the winner of the DVAS quiz.