Medical students fight for change in Wales

by Craig Heath

A welcome from the new committee chair

Location: Wales
Published: Tuesday 1 November 2022
Craig heath

As the newly elected chair of the BMA Welsh medical students committee, it’s been great to get stuck in and focus on the issues facing medical students in Cardiff, Swansea, and Bangor. We have already had our first meeting of the year which was very productive.

In my four years as a medical student at Swansea University, three of which I have been involved with the BMA, I’ve met many challenges, including those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to have worked hard with the committee to try to overcome these issues and support our students on the ground.

We helped secure appropriate employment contracts for medical students to help as part of the workforce during the height of the pandemic, as well as raising issues relating to the increase of medical student numbers and its effect on placement experience, which remains a priority for the committee.

Being a part of the committee means we have the weight and expertise of the BMA behind us to make a difference.

The last committee, led by Ellen Davies, made some great advances including raising discrepancies around GEM (Graduate Entry Medicine) student finance with Welsh Government and requesting a review of the NHS bursary during the cost-of-living crisis. We look forward to progressing in this area during this session.

I wanted to give an insight into how we work as a committee because it’s so important we continue to get input from our fellow students, whether BMA members or not. We encourage people to nominate themselves as reps in both Cardiff and Swansea medical schools, and we have a voting rep from the Bangor based course too.

The reps act as our eyes and ears: speaking to medical students in their years about issues they’re facing. We then use the expertise and connections of BMA Cymru staff to fight for change in these areas.

A good example of this is accommodation standards while on placement, which has been an issue in the past. We have raised this with the relevant health boards to ensure standards are improved, especially regarding getting stable WiFi!

Another part of the representative’s role is to promote the BMA to fellow students, encouraging them to join and sharing the benefits available to BMA student members. There’s still time to nominate yourself as a rep if you are a BMA member. Find out more

As I’ve mentioned, the first meeting of the session took place recently and I wanted to share with you our focuses for 2022/23. Improving the NHS bursary and GEM funding is a real priority for the committee, as currently, it’s not meeting the needs of students, who are being forced to cut spending on essentials such as food, clothing, and heating. It’s having a real impact on their mental health and change is so desperately needed.

A survey carried out at Swansea University Medical School showed that 80% of respondents have a part-time job to assist with their tuition fees and living costs. This puts a real strain on their already extremely busy schedule, including 40 hours of teaching and placements per week, with considerable additional self-directed learning.

75% of respondents reported that they struggled financially during their studies and 68% said their mental health has been affected. The situation is a similar one for GEM students at Cardiff University, with it being reported that most of those on the Graduate Entry Medicine Course have taken on part-time jobs to assist with their course and living costs.

You know as well as I do that studying medicine can be an overwhelming experience and we need support if we’re going to be the next generation of doctors the NHS so desperately needs. We’ve written to the current and previous education minister and the health minister expressing our concerns and demanded change. BMA Cymru has since been invited to sit on the Bursary Programme Board, so we’ll keep fighting for change in this area and keep our fellow students updated.

Other areas of focus for us include pushing for better mental health support in higher education, following a WMSC survey which found that 70% of respondents have faced mental health issues whilst at university, with more than one fifth of respondents not considering themselves to have good mental health.

We’ll also focus on creating a student finance guide to help make it easier for medical students living in Wales to see what funding is available to them during their studies.

We’ll continue to be champions of widening access to medicine, with an event for all schools in Wales planned for 18thNovember. We’ll continue to seek ways we can support others in this work, whether that’s sponsoring events or having a presence where we can demystify medicine as a profession.

We update our social media channels regularly, sharing the work of the committee and the wider BMA, so make sure you follow us on Facebook and Twitter

BMA members will shortly be receiving the latest WMSC newsletter, which will contain more information on the work we’re doing across the BMA for medical students and doctors.

Visit us if you’re not currently a member and would like to hear more about this. A reminder that membership is free for first years and a small fee for the remaining years.


Craig is the chair of the BMA Welsh medical students committee, and a final-year GEM student at Swansea University Medical School