Taking a stand

by Stephen Naulls

Become a BMA rep and clear the path for future doctors

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 28 July 2020
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Have you ever seen something happen at your medical school that made you want to agitate for change in the future?

Do you care about the experience of your peers as they progress through the challenges of a medical degree? Do you want to remove some of the obstacles that were in your way to clear an easier pathway for the next generation of doctors-to-be?

If you answered yes to any of these, then I would strongly encourage you to consider standing to be a BMA representative in the upcoming medical student committee elections. It was one of the best decisions I made throughout my time at medical school. For me, I wanted to get involved with the BMA because I increasingly felt frustrated with working on a local level internally at my medical school on issues which I perceived to be national in nature. There were barriers in place that neither myself, nor those at the very top of my university, had much licence to address by working in isolation. The solution would require collaboration and the pooled voices of students and educators from across the UK.

Having attended the BMA medical student conference for two years running, and after standing on picket lines alongside junior doctors in 2016, I wanted to try being that voice for change. I knew elections to the medical student committee took place annually and was keen to be my medical school’s voice in a forum striving for positive change for medical students in the UK.

My first task was to get elected on a local level at my medical school, being voted into the BMA representative position by fellow members at my medical school. Once I was in post, I decided to stand for one of the executive committee positions on the committee – keen to use my experience as a welfare officer for my students’ union to be an advocate for reform on a larger level. I studied the policies passed at our annual conference in detail and found that many of them aligned with the issues I’d been so frustrated by on a local level at my medical school. It felt like a chance to stop screaming into a cacophony of voices all agreeing on the need for change – instead, I could start to work to achieve it.

During my 18 months as deputy chair of the committee, I found myself regularly attending meetings with organisations that had the agency to work with me on fixing the problems medical students face. The GMC, Department for Education, Office for Students, the Medical Schools Council – all incredibly influential voices keen to hear the input of students and make our experiences central to the changes they pursue. I was proud to commission a new piece of work aiming to improve the support services and pastoral care provided to students by universities in my first year – a project my successors will now be taking forward, guided by reports from the GMC and other stakeholders.

More recently, working with our equality and inclusion team, we published a charter to tackle racial harassment in medical schools in response to a roundtable we hosted with the Equality and Human Rights Commission – a charter universities across the country continue to agree to sign up to.

My time as a BMA representative and later as deputy chair of the committee gave me the chance to try to leave medical education in a more supportive and inclusive environment than when I entered it. If that’s something you want to be a part of, then working with other students through the BMA is the ideal route for you.

Stephen Naulls is former deputy chair of the BMA medical students committee