Why Start Medics4Medics?
25 Oct 2020 0 comments
In 2014-15 I was in third year (BSc) and also voted in as RUMS Welfare VP. I was incredibly passionate about improving the support provided by the university for medical students as I saw far too often that we were just a number in a class of >300 and so it was very easy for people to get lost in the system.
I think I first really noticed the issues when a friend from my halls failed first year exams and it’s only with hindsight that I now realise they were probably suffering with low mood. They withdrew from all activities and stopped attending lectures. They attended only the sessions where their absence would be noted. We didn’t really know each other other than both being medics in the same halls; when they withdrew socially, I thought maybe they just didn’t really want to be friends with me. No one in my life before had experienced (or at least not openly talked about) mental health difficulties and so I was unaware of the warning signs I was seeing.
I was upset that I hadn’t recognised the signs and was frustrated that this person struggled so much but no one was aware. The following year I spoke to other people about experiences with student support and was shocked at how difficult it was to get support, how most people didn’t know how to get help and that when help was offered, it was only very short term. I also experienced student support myself towards the end of second year when I was hospitalised with an acute medical problem for 1 week prior to exams; I had hoped for was a bit of support and reassurance but was met rather coldly with the opportunity to sit the retakes rather than the standard exam timing.
I went into my third year with bold ambitions of “fixing” the welfare support available for medical students. I very quickly realised that the medical school was stretched pretty thinly and that they were doing what they could with the resources available to them. I reached out to a welfare officer at Oxford and also to the UCL Welfare officer and explored ideas that they were either already using or looking at doing. Oxford, it turned out, had a pretty good system in place where the welfare officer for each college was trained to recognise and support students in times of need. I thought about this and the practicalities of something similar at RUMS.
I realised that I had been incredibly fortunate in that I made many friends through the RUMS Football club and that the girls in the older years had been my support network (informally). They provided support with adapting to life at university, study tips, practical support regarding housing etc. They were also the ones that gave me the support and reassurance I needed when I had been unwell. With that experience in mind, I wanted to form an official support system, open to all medics, that would provide a safe place to talk and signpost through the maze that is life at medical school.
After running this idea by the UCL Welfare Officer, it seemed we had very similar plans and so we created two parallel support groups, one that later became “medics for medics” and a UCL wide “students for students”. With the help of the charity ReThink, we managed to get facilitators trained to recognise and support various mental health presentations. Our facilitators then went on to spread the word of our group, to raise awareness of the signs of mental ill health and to publicise where people could turn for support. We also put on a ‘welfare week’ and various events throughout the term (ranging from tea&biscuits to movie nights and educational talks).
The first couple of years were slow, we didn’t get many newcomers but each person we did help was welcomed to the team. When it came to my final year, I made the tough decision to step down from my involvement and handed over to Kerry Wales (someone I had met through football).
Kerry went on to do incredible things with the group and I am so overwhelmed to see the size of the group and the activities offered. I am so proud to see the group growing and doing bigger and better things each year.
I’m F3 now, had hoped to travel but COVID has put those plans on hold and I will instead be doing a junior clinical fellow post at North Middlesex Hospital. I will continue watching the group from afar but if ever I am able to attend one of the activities put on, I would love to come and meet some of the new faces who are doing such incredible work! Super proud of you all, keep being amazing humans, I promise this long degree is totally worth it 🧡