Clearly knowledge of the genetics of sickle cell is a vital part of the curriculum and teaching resources available for health professionals in universities. But how can a social scientific approach to sickle cell be of use in the education of health professionals within academia?
One example is through my work on the relationship between ethnicity and antenatal screening for sickle cell. At De Montfort University, the work on Ethnicity and Screening for Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia (Dyson, 2005) informs the midwifery curriculum. Sociological research on the complexities of the relationship between (1)socially constructed legal-bureaucratic Census categories on ethnic origin and (2) actual genomic variation in carrying genes encoding sickle cell and thalassaemia (Dyson, 2005; Dyson et al, 2006; Dyson et al, 2007a&b; Dyson, 2007) has helped prepare midwifery students for their role in operating an ethnic/ family origins questionnaire to pregnant mothers as a first screening question that helps target those women to whom a laboratory screen for sickle cell is then offered.
This sociological approach to sickle cell is also used in education on the multi-disciplinary degree in Health Studies. The fact that sickle cell illustrates the myth of distinct biological ‘races’ helps students to meet the module learning outcome “To define and critically analyse concepts of ‘race’, racism and ethnicity and their relationship to health”. The fact that it is nonetheless statistically associated (though to a declining extent) with socially defined black and minority ethnic groups in the UK aids students in meeting the learning outcome “To demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the ethnic patterning of health and illness and the impact of ethnicity on the delivery of health care”. The manner in which the research evaluates contested screening policies of universal screening versus selective screening based on targeting screening at particular ethnic groups helps students to achieve a third module learning outcome, namely “To critically appraise current policy initiatives in the area of ethnicity and health”.
This in turn contributes to the programme learning outcomes for Health Studies, especially those concerned with “examining themes and dilemmas in contemporary British health and health care”; “drawing upon a range of theoretical and conceptual resources to evaluate both academic analysis of health, illness and health care and practical interventions in health policy and health care” and “applying theory to practical aspects of health care provision and organisation”. This subject matter is forming the basis of teaching resources that we are making available through the SCOOTER project.
Dyson, SM (2005) Ethnicity and Screening for Sickle Cell/Thalassaemia Oxford: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone
Dyson, SM; Culley, LA; Gill, C; Hubbard, S; Kennefick, A; Morris, P; Rees, D; Sutton, F; Squire, P (2006) Ethnicity Questions and Antenatal Screening for Sickle Cell/Thalassaemia [EQUANS] in England: A randomized controlled trial of two questionnaires. Ethnicity and Health 11 (2): 169-189.
Dyson, SM; Chambers, K; Gawler, S; Hubbard, S; Jivanji, V; Sutton, F; and Squire, P (2007a) Lessons for Intermediate and Low Prevalence Areas in England from the Ethnicity Questions and Antenatal Screening for Sickle Cell/Thalassaemia [EQUANS] Study. Diversity in Health and Social Care 4 (2): 123-35. [ISSN 1743-1913]
Dyson, SM; Cochran, F; Culley, LA; Dyson, SE, Kennefick, A; Kirkham, M; Morris, P; Sutton, F; and Squire, P (2007b) Observation and Interview Findings from the Ethnicity Questions and Antenatal Screening for Sickle Cell/Thalassaemia [EQUANS] Study. Critical Public Health 17 (1): 31-43.
Dyson, SM (2007) Genetic traits as pollution: ‘White English’ carriers of sickle cell or thalassaemia. In Kirkham, M (Eds) Exploring the Dirty Side of Women’s Health London: Routledge, 270-283.
Blog article by Professor Simon Dyson
Unit for the Social Study of Thalassaemia and Sickle Cell,
De Montfort University