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With a new academic year vastly approaching; a bright eyed and bushy tailed bunch of medical students will be embarking on their career. For some, it may be their second degree meaning they have a solid understanding of what it is like to be a university student while others will be school leavers ready to bridge the gap between school and university.
Excitement, joy and pride are without doubt some of the emotions felt by a soon to be medical student, having fought off stiff competition to make it to a rivaled medical school. There is however always an element of fear, apprehension and uncertainty as one looks ahead to their future in medical school. It could be about moving to a new city to study, meeting new friends and colleagues, or keeping up with the somewhat fast pace of university compared to school.
As the first person in my immediate family to study medicine, I had few people to ask intricate details about what life is like as a medical student, how best to approach studying and preparing for exams and overall how to get the most out of my experience and professional training. I had heard of universities offering buddy systems whereby a student in a later year would act as a mentor to the fresher, and indeed other departments in Queen’s University Belfast seem to offer a Peer-mentor type scheme and friends from other courses were remarking to me of how useful they found the scheme.
Student welfare, is, and has always been a priority of the Northern Ireland Medical Students Committee and the idea of implementing a buddy scheme within the medical school had been on the committee’s radar for a few years. Like anything of this kind, it required thought and adequate preparation on how best to approach. In my second year of medical school the committee established a buddy scheme where a second year volunteer is assigned to a group of first year students. The academic year following this Queen’s University Medical School itself implemented their own buddy scheme with a similar concept to the one we set up the previous year. I am pleased to say that the feedback from students has been very positive. Because of its success the committee decided to start an online ‘buddy’ forum to run alongside the scheme operated by QUB medical school, further enhancing the support available to fresher medical students.
Our online forum enables BMA members to post questions and queries and have them answered by those in a later year group. It is a quick and easy way to get an answer to a question and all students can view all questions and comments. In this way, it is not a system whereby personal, pastoral type questions can be addressed; those types of queries will be signposted to BMA Doctors for Doctors counseling service or students will be reminded of the support services within the medical school and wider university. The forum requires BMA login details therefore it is confidential to members.
This year will see our buddy forum re-branded as ‘Peer Assisted Learning Scheme – PALS’ because after positive feedback and the committee evaluation we see this as a mechanism that students in year 1 to 4 could benefit from; after all, we are always learning and each year of medical school brings new challenges, new subject areas and new core content. I would urge all QUB medical students, freshers and beyond to sign up for this forum as it really is an invaluable support tool.
I hope this will inspire current medical students to evaluate the support systems available at your medical school; is there currently a buddy scheme within the medical school? Is it working well? How can it be improved? If there isn’t a buddy scheme offered for medical students yet, why not speak with your medical school to discuss the reasons for this and investigate if there is potential for establishing a scheme?
To those joining medical school this year, I’d strongly encourage you to get involved in a buddy scheme. It’s a great way to learn tips and tricks on how to get through first year and beyond. I’d like to welcome you as you embark on your journey, as a medical student; one that certainly hasn’t disappointed me so far. Good luck and enjoy!
Access the BMA Northern Ireland Buddy Scheme Forum.
Learn more about the work of BMA Northern Ireland’s Medical Students Committee.