Immerse yourself in debate

by Akshata Valsangkar

Get involved at the BMA medical students conference where you can network and discuss the pressing issues of the day

Location: UK
Published: Friday 22 March 2024
BMA booklet in lap

The two-day BMA medical students conference happens every year, where students across the UK have a chance to make their voices heard. It is packed with passionate debates, networking and workshops giving delegates a chance to engage with the BMA.

The main aim of the conference is to set the agenda for the BMA medical students committee for the next year. MSC is the national committee representing medical students from the BMA and exists to protect the interests of medical students.

It is vital for MSC that medical students from across the country are represented within their four priorities – finance, welfare, education and widening participation.


What are motions?

You may have seen your medical school rep advertising submissions of motions and voting around the Christmas period, and this is when those motions take flight. All motions submitted are processed by the conference committee, and those presenting new policy recommendations are selected for voting. 

When a motion passes, it is incorporated within the policy of the BMA. As an attendee, you get to vote on each motion and decide whether it should pass directly, needs alteration, or is rejected. If you have thoughts about a motion, you have opportunity to speak for or against it.

Every student attending the conference will have their own opinions on topical issues, developed from lived experience. Personally, coming from a state school and being a queer medical student meant I was particularly passionate about hearing the motions which surrounded widening participation and welfare.

There were many motions which recommended active policy changes around these topics, such as looking after students’ mental health on placement. I took the opportunity to speak and support these motions, using my lived experience to formulate an argument.

Usually when you vote in elections you don’t directly see the effect of your vote. However, at the conference you find out in mere seconds whether the motion you voted for gets accepted. There were motions at the conference where the votes were close to 50% – so for the first time in medical school, my voice had an effect.

Given the turbulent time for medical students, with disruptions to placement teaching from expansion, cost-of-living crisis and constant (and inconsistent) UKFPO changes, the 2024 conference will bring more passionate debates than ever. Delegates will have a chance to review all the motions in advance. So, if you are attending this year and feel strongly about any motions, you will have a chance to speak so be prepared.


What do the workshops include?

The conference gives students a chance to attend workshops around medicine. These are led by prominent doctors coming from a broad range of clinical and non-clinical careers beyond medicine. I was fortunate enough to attend the workshop with multi-award-winning Ally Jaffee, a doctor known for developing the food and nutrition charity Nutritank.

These workshops are the perfect opportunity to develop contacts and learn about unique careers that can follow medical school. The speakers for the 2024 conference will be announced soon on the BMA medical student conference Instagram (@MedStudentConf), so keep your eyes peeled!


How do you meet people at the conference?

As an introvert, the prospect of attending a conference full of more than 100 medical students was initially intimidating. The first day starts off with a chance to meet new people, with free refreshments provided by the BMA.

Breaking the ice during this time was surprisingly easy, despite any nerves I felt.

Despite coming from different backgrounds, medical students have a lot in common and it’s fun to meet other people and compare your experiences.

Furthermore, there are plenty more opportunities to network throughout the two days, such as the social, the workshops, and of course, debating motions. To make things easier, there is usually a WhatsApp group chat circulating for conference attendees. If you are attending in 2024, be sure to introduce yourself on this group chat – it will liven up very quickly within the two days.

Getting to the real reason for attending the conference – the social event. On the first evening of the conference, the BMA organises a formal dinner in the beautiful dining hall. The social activity gives you a much-needed break from a long day of debating all things medicine and will end up being a night to remember.


So, what happens after the conference?

The motions which pass will become part of the BMA policy and will be taken up as action points by reps next year. The different connections you have made will most likely stay with you, and you will have plenty of unique anecdotes to take back to your medical school.

My advice would be to be prepared, be yourself and take advantages of the opportunities available to you. If you prepare your thoughts on the motions before, the confidence to speak them will come naturally.

You have been invited to the conference because of your unique perspective, it is your chance to use it. The 2024 conference is going to be one to remember, so follow the @medstudentconf account on Instagram/X to keep up.

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Akshata Valsangkar is a member of the BMA medical student conference agenda committee