It has been a trying year for us all. A year of many challenges. And for students across the UK embarking on the long and difficult road to becoming doctors and who are faced with an uncertain and precarious future, this has been particularly the case.
Our students are beset by a raft of pitfalls, ranging from the potential removal of the NHS Bursary for medical students, to the unprecedented levels of debt that they are likely to graduate with, to finding funds to travel to placements, to dealing with fears about the contract they will be asked to sign when they enter the Foundation Programme. Any single one of those issues could at any point derail their nascent careers.
It is small wonder then that we are currently faced with a crisis in the morale of medical students, who are rightly concerned about their futures.
So many of our medical student colleagues, who come into the profession with a profound and real commitment to the NHS and patients are now actively researching the requirements of foreign national licensing assessments, or making plans to work abroad after their F2 year. Other students are looking for job opportunities in entirely different fields in the UK. We are also aware that we are seeing a significant year on year reduction in the number of people applying to medical schools in the UK.
In part, that potential drain of our brightest and most talented has been driven by the fear of the imposition of an unjust, dangerous and unfair contract, and we have stood shoulder to shoulder with our junior doctor colleagues during the recent industrial action fighting against the imposition of that proposed contract.
And we must thank those colleagues for their resolve and their sacrifice in fighting for a fair contract for us all.
And further we wish to thank JDC and the Association more widely for including students – through the MSC – so centrally in the negotiation process, recognising as they do that this contract will be our contract for quite likely the entirety of our training.
Further evidence of the value which the Association places on its student members can be seen in the inclusion of final and penultimate year students in the contract referendum. Our students will have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this vital question, and I am certain that they will do so.
While of course, a major focus of the MSC has been on the junior doctors’ contract negotiations, we have been incredibly busy working on the behalf of students in many other areas.
We submitted a detailed response to the GMC Consultation on its new guidance for medical students and medical schools on professional values and fitness to practice. That GMC guidance will have a major impact on the way in which students are expected to conduct themselves at medical school, and also on the kinds of behaviours which students themselves can expect from their medical schools.
We have published minimum standards of accommodation guidance for clinical placements. The purpose of that guidance is to recommend minimum standards of accommodation at minimal cost and inconvenience to medical students and medical schools.
We have published The Right Mix – which is our web resource on widening participation to medicine, and which calls for us to work with local (secondary) schools to identify student potential and provide access courses for these students and to consider implementing new measures that some innovative medical schools have already put in place to widen participation in medicine. Widening participation and access to medicine is something this committee passionately cares about. Whilst we are primarily a member’s organisation, we profoundly believe that entry to medical school, and to our profession, should be open to the most able, not the most able to pay.
We continue to lobby hard on finance issues for students. We know that students from the poorest backgrounds are now graduating with unprecedented levels of debt, and we stand with our many colleagues in opposing proposals to scrap the NHS bursary for student nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals in England. This year we published our pamphlet on Medical student finances and the effect on wider participation, and discussed it widely with our key stakeholders. The BMA and MSC are working hard to increase participation from all sectors of society. For this reason we are particularly concerned about the number of medical students who are facing financial hardship, and we will continue to strive to address the issue.
We are also acutely aware that studying medicine is a challenging time for many students, and for that reason we work to offer a range of guidance and support services on issues from vaccinations and health screening; alcohol and drugs; raising concerns; mental health; and studying with dyslexia, for medical students to take advantage of.
Finally, RB, we wish to emphasise to you that we very much believe that studying medicine is a privilege. We believe that is a great privilege to have the opportunity to follow the vocation that all of us here have chosen.
However, in such trying and challenging times for students we also firmly believe that it is absolutely incumbent upon MSC and the Association to do everything it possibly can to support those students in achieving their long harboured ambitions of becoming doctors, so that in time they will have the opportunity to work side by side with you all in caring for patients and upholding the finest values of this our shared profession.
RB, we move.
Harrison Carter and Charlie Bell, MSC co-chairs.
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