Journal examines role of digital fellowships in healthcare transformation

An article published in Nature journal examines the role of digital fellowships in facilitating digital transformation in healthcare systems, with the authors describing participants as “catalysts for future-oriented, resilient, and adaptable workforce in an increasingly digital world”, and recommending increased collaboration and further integration for fellowships and their learnings in the future.

The authors focus on UK-based initiatives for the purpose of their article: the Topol Digital Fellowship, Fellowship in Clinical AI, and Florence Nightingale digital fellowships and scholarships. Firstly, acknowledging the positive impact of these fellowships, the authors write that fellows “can act as force multipliers when given the gift of time through fellowships and are able to introduce innovative approaches to their areas of work disseminating their expertise to colleagues”.

The article also comments on the potential of fellowships to “alleviate staff burnout and enhance job satisfaction through engagement, ultimately benefitting workforce retention”, as they can help open up pathways to portfolio careers and strategic leadership roles as well as helping to develop skills and diversify experiences.

Regarding recommendations for future developments, the authors specify that whilst fellowship programmes play a “vital role” in supporting NHS digital transformation, they are one part of a larger picture; the authors highlight the need for curricula from hospitals, universities and professional bodies to “evolve accordingly” in order to support digital literacy in the wider workforce. In particular, they state: “Collaboration of education providers with fellowship programmes on the design and implementation of digital curricula is a golden opportunity to disseminate information from cutting edge and share expertise.”

In addition, given current pressures around NHS workforce planning and “the need to address the deficit in digital transformation capabilities”, the article notes that “the suitability of the current centrally funded model of fellowships should be questioned”. The authors suggest that one strategy could be for integrated care systems to fund local digital fellowships, alongside leveraging existing frameworks or curricula, and focusing on industry collaboration to develop innovative solutions. They point to the Health Innovation Placement from (as was) NHS Digital Academy as a good example of this approach.

Concluding their article, the authors emphasise: “We call for increased collaboration among universities, industry and professional bodies to integrate lessons from digital fellowships into relevant curricula”, and add that the educational frameworks developed through fellowship programmes can “serve as valuable resources for local models of educational delivery”.

Citation: Salisbury, T., Deng, A.T., Burch, E. et al. Digital Fellowships: Inspiring use of contemporary technologies in applied healthcare. npj Digit. Med. 6, 178 (2023).

Earlier this year we interviewed GP trainee and innovation founder Roger Flint on his experiences as a Harvard Health Tech Fellow. See what Roger had to say here.

Last year, we chatted with Dr Hatim Abdulhussein, national clinical lead for AI and digital workforce at NHS England, about his work with the Topol Review and educational programmes for clinicians. Catch up here.