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Resilience and its limitations
Ask a medical student where the focus of the team lies on a ward and they will hopefully all give you the same answer: patients. Our MDT (multi-disciplinary team) draws together a plethora of different people with individual specialties, each contributing their own distinct area of expertise that, when put together, aim to provide patients with the best care possible. Medical students rightly spend their time on the wards pondering how to be the best doctor they can for their future patients. But while each member of the team focuses on delivering exceptional care to patients, who is looking after us?
I often hear colleagues – and indeed, many medical schools in their admissions processes – talk about the need for resilience amongst the medical cohort. In particular, the emotional challenges encountered during the course of a medical degree absolutely require an innate capacity to deal with stress. But when someone is potentially crushed under the weight of excessive costs of living, probably working alongside a full-time degree to pay their rent, potentially struggling with their sense of identity and where they fit in the world, perhaps dealing with bullying and harassment on the wards, trying desperately to find an F1 who is able to do their last sign-off with them, maybe living with a physical and/or non-physical disability, alongside witnessing death and the impact of chronic illness for the first time, maybe resilience can only get you so far? What plugs the gap to make sure you can focus on studying?
A call to improve student support services
A major focus for the BMA medical students committee this year is to lobby for improvements to student support services. Student support is a vast term which spans from pastoral support to reasonable adjustments for examinations and assistance with accommodation issues. Many students can go through university without encountering support staff; that is, until they find themselves in sudden need of their services. If any of the above things go wrong – and often, they can go wrong simultaneously – student support services tend to be the saviours that can pick up a student who otherwise might fall by the wayside.
As the committee’s deputy chair and welfare lead, I am looking to provide specific recommendations on how universities should support medical students throughout their studies. If things go wrong, or a student needs help during their studies, they deserve to have their own “MDT” – an integrated, well-equipped network of individuals whose focus is to provide a high standard of support. By working with BMA representatives, I hope to move closer to that over the course of this year.
The accessibility of support services is of paramount importance. For medical students, course hours can go far beyond 9 to 5, and students often find themselves on placements at satellite campuses, usually a fair distance from the main university campus and the mainstay of student support services which are housed there. Getting access to support can therefore be difficult; lots of students can be placed in the difficult situation of choosing between attending their placement or attending an appointment to get the help they require. One of my priorities this year is to address this imbalance and to find a way for medical schools to provide support regardless of the time of day or a student’s location.
The BMA MSC is also pushing for a more standardised approach to student support across the United Kingdom. We are interested to receive feedback from medical students on the support services available to them and to hear examples of good or bad practice at medical schools, so that we can create a set of guidance for our members. We want to empower students to ask for a better deal from their university in terms of the support they receive. That starts with being assured of what support could and should be available. We are inviting medical students to feed back to us on questions such as:
These are just some of the questions we are seeking to answer as we move forward. It is okay to not be okay - wellbeing is complex, and it fluctuates. You can be resilient and still need support. You deserve that support to be of the highest standard possible.
Stephen Naulls is the deputy chair and welfare lead of the BMA medical students committee. Interested in getting involved or hearing more on his and the committee’s work on student support services? Get in touch at [email protected]
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I am a medical student who developed crippling anxiety and became suicidal following a dissertation project at my university - one we were expected to complete within a mere 3-4 months. During this time I was receiving no help from my clinical supervisor and my academic one (a professor no less!) stated he no longer wanted to be involved despite committing to this previously. When I tried to escalate this (one of several occasions) the person overseeing my dissertation group seemed to want to do nothing to urge this my supervisor and instead sent an email to him that I was anxious. He then showed me the reply in which they again played up my anxiety stating 'we are on track' (we weren't - said supervisor also made me seek inadequate/the wrong approval for my study due to laziness) ' she continues to be anxious', the overseer laughed at this brushed it aside and I continued to struggle. Later my personal tutor, who is a busy clinician, was little to no help and it was/is very hard to get a reply from. Later on in my course I reached the realisation that despite being told to access support it was increasingly hard to, being an hour and a half away from home whilst on some placements (and frequently rotating), university support services only at times suitable for non-healthcare students and of course waiting times worsened by my lack of availability. I have since made my wellbeing a priority, but this is something I very much had to do myself as in practice as my school is not seemingly willing to or equipped to make way or give time to these things.