Guidance for medical students during industrial action

This page outlines how potential industrial action by junior doctors could impact medical students.

Location: England
Audience: Medical students
Updated: Thursday 29 February 2024
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Medical students cannot take industrial action

Medical students cannot take industrial action as they do not hold contracts with the NHS. During any planned strike action by junior doctors or other healthcare professionals you should attend your clinical placements as directed by your medical school.


Medical students cannot join an official picket line

As you are not included in the official junior doctor dispute you should not join or form any part of an official picket line or take part in picketing activity such as peacefully obtaining and communicating information or seeking to peacefully persuade others not to work in support of the strike.


Medical students can show support for industrial action by visiting a picket line

You are free to visit a picket line to show your support. You can visit the picket to provide logistical support (like bringing food and refreshments) in your own time and when you are not supposed to be attending your placement. You can also share your personal support for any industrial action via social media or by joining a demonstration. While you are free to discuss industrial action with colleagues you should not use your time on placement to lobby or actively encourage or discourage them from participating in action.


Medical students on clinical placements cannot be asked to fulfil the role of a junior doctor during strike action

As a medical student, you should not be asked to fulfil the role of a junior doctor during strike action. You may receive offers to work to cover junior doctors during industrial actions. If you do, please refuse and notify the BMA.

Remember, clinical placements are arrangements where a student is present for educational purposes in an environment that provides healthcare or related services to patients. As part of your clinical placement, you should have a timetable with teaching opportunities, know what the learning outcomes of your placement are, and receive a local induction from your placement provider.

You should also be given information on how to raise safety or quality concerns, and information on how to access support networks, such as wellbeing services.


If you are undertaking a student assistantship

The GMC’s guidance on undergraduate clinical placements confirms that student assistantships are a type of clinical placement undertaken towards the end of your training and designed to help prepare you for Foundation Year 1. Although some direct care of patients is implicit and necessary, it remains primarily an educational experience. It should provide a number of hands-on learning experiences that allow you to work within clinical settings and to practise clinical skills. If undertaking an assistantship, you should be fully integrated within a clinical team and should be responsible for carrying out specified duties under appropriate supervision.

You will be expected to participate in activities like those of a newly qualified doctor but have clear learning outcomes relating to the tasks you are asked to perform. This includes working on calls, out of hours and learning to manage workload due to winter pressures or crisis situations. However, this should not impact on your experience or learning during the assistantship. You shouldn’t be required to work extra shifts due to service pressure, including any service pressure related to industrial action.


If your clinical placements are cancelled on days of industrial action

Some medical schools may suspend clinical placements during periods of industrial action. If this occurs your medical school should set out how it will manage this disruption to your training to ensure your learning needs will be met. You should raise any concerns you may have regarding your portfolio completion or sign-off with your clinical supervisor and educational supervisor.


What you should do if you get asked to undertake tasks outside of your competence during industrial action

During periods of industrial action, if you feel you are being asked to undertake any tasks that sit outside the agreed learning outcomes of your placement, or that are not properly supervised, you should raise this with both your clinical supervisor and educational supervisor. You must be supervised to be safe, and act within your competence and capability at all times. This includes any periods of pressure experienced by the service you are learning in, including service pressures created by other healthcare workers taking industrial action.

You should stop immediately if, at any time, you’re concerned about your level of supervision, or you’re being expected to work beyond your level of competency. You should speak to your named clinical supervisor and medical school about these concerns. Medical schools are responsible for making sure medical students have an alternative named clinical supervisor if the planned supervisor is not available. You can also seek advice and support from the BMA.

You should always be treated fairly and respectfully, regardless of your background or protected characteristics, not experience bullying, harassment or undue pressure, but it should be taken seriously if this does occur. Your safety is paramount within the placement. Guidance on undergraduate clinical placements from the GMC sets out what is expected of all medical schools, placement providers and medical students.