On the ground: occupational hazard

by Neil Hallows

A student was singled out unfairly – and a friend who spoke up for her was targeted too

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 14 September 2022

Of all the organisations that should have insight into people’s health conditions, you might think a medical school would be fairly near the top.

But one of them subjected a medical student to unnecessary and discriminatory measures while she was on a placement.

The student has a health condition where she is prone to fainting or collapsing episodes which can be exacerbated by excessive walking and exercise. Following a spell in hospital, her medical school referred her to occupational health. 

She was not happy with the occupational health report and did not think it was accurate. It alluded to attendance problems, and how these would affect her ability to achieve her competencies. However, her attendance had never been an issue.

It was this the medical school focused on as she began a clinical placement. It insisted that, when undertaking it, she sign in every day at the undergraduate office at the hospital.

Nothing about this was right. It singled her out unfairly. It clearly was not needed for the purpose of confirming attendance or others would have had to do the same – and it’s usually pretty obvious if a student isn’t present on a placement.

And, perhaps worst of all, it involved a considerable extra walk, thus increasing the risk of exacerbating her condition. She was told that this was to fulfil the requirements of the GMC and her future foundation application – which was not true. 

Showing considerable courage, the student raised the matter with her medical school. She took a fellow student with her to the meeting. The medical school’s response to the BMA member’s concerns about her feeling singled out was… to say to her peer that he would have his attendance monitored too.

It was a response which seems harsh and peevish. Students are taught that as doctors they have a duty to raise concerns, and yet here they were being shown that by raising concerns they would be subject to less favourable treatment. 

The student got the BMA involved. The BMA employment adviser wrote to the school requesting a formal meeting, with her present, to discuss what support the student needed (and which she clearly was not getting). She said the conditions being put on the student and her peer were potentially discriminatory and requested a second occupational health opinion. The school raised her supposed attendance problems, but had to retract these claims when it turned out that they simply were not true.

A compromise was reached, where it was agreed that this was the last placement at which she would be monitored, and her friend would not be monitored at all.

As a professional association as well as a trade union, the BMA is able to offer more than just workplace support, and so the employment adviser was also able to refer her to the BMA’s equality and diversity team, who gave advice about possible forms of future support and the chance to contact doctors who had overcome similar obstacles. 

The medical student said the BMA employment adviser had been ‘very supportive’ with ‘frequent communication’ and ‘lots of advice’.

For employment advice, please contact us.


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