5 July 2016

Medical Schools Council Student Conference

By Claire Keith and Tom Walker

You may be wondering what on earth the Medical Schools Council is. Tom and I didn't know either when we were asked to attend this event.

It turns out it's a group of all the deans from medical schools around the country, who are working together to promote excellence in education. This year, they held a student conference to find out what we thought about the key issues that are going to affect us.

Our first discussion centred around careers; how to promote general practice as a more popular option to medical students, the 'shape of training review' and the NHS five-year plan to move more and more services into the community. It was a very vocal and engaged group of med students, and what became immediately apparent was the vast difference in experiences at each med school.

It turns out that, comparatively, we have a relatively large exposure to general practice as a specialty, whereas our colleagues at Imperial are being actively put off it as a career by their faculty, with no time built into the curriculum for it.

Some people felt uncomfortable admitting they were considering a career in general practice to their peers as it was felt to have a stigma attached to it - that it was the easy way out, or a career for students who lacked ambition. This was an interesting perspective to see when so many of my cohort seem particularly attracted to it for the work-life balance aspects - just one of the many differences between undergrad and postgrad medicine it seems.

With regards to the promotion of more generalisation in hospital medicine, there was a largely positive feeling among the students who, after all the hard work they've put in, didn't have any desire to lose the skills they'd built up. It was suggested that an occasional on call rota for all specialties could be a potential way to do this. The move towards medicine in the community didn't bring up any particularly strong opinions as people tended to think that was something they'd deal with when they actually had jobs.

We had a very enlightening presentation from the GMC. Apparently they also have a role in supporting us in our education - who knew there was more to them than FTP? It was suggested that they need to increase engagement with students and have a more noticeable presence at the medical schools to make us more aware of this fact. Currently their visits are every five years, which for us would miss out an entire cohort from ever getting to voice their opinion on our educational system.

The GMC is responsible for ensuring high standards in education in all UK medical schools, so the option of standardising medical courses was discussed. However, general opinion was that med schools are successful because of their diversity and offer the opportunity for applicants to choose a university based on their preferred learning styles and career goals.

The discussion moved to the introduction of the medical licensing assessment. This would be a standardised MCQ and OSCE exam for all UK medical schools and applicants from other countries, that could potentially be used for foundation programme ranking. At this point, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the crowd was infuriated.

With the GMC's role being to ensure that all UK medical schools are of a qualified standard to produce safe doctors, it was felt that they were trying to skip this duty and take an easy route out of working for quality in education. As our medical schools are approved by the GMC, that should inherently mean that they are trusted to examine us to a suitable standard.

Additional examinations are not good for student wellbeing nor a suitable way to rank applicants on a one-off performance. It was unanimously thought that this should not become a reality. There will be a consultation period on this in the autumn, and although we will not be directly affected as the exam wouldn't come into play until 2022, it's important for future medical students that we have our say.

The removal of the pre-registration year was also discussed in relation to this, which is particularly relevant to graduate entry courses as that year counts towards our total number of educational hours. Personally, in my admittedly biased opinion, I think all medical courses should be postgraduate as the extra life experience is great preparation for the highs and lows of medicine. The argument for getting rid of the pre-reg year however is that there is now much better continuing training and so it isn't as necessary to have that 'trial period'.

The afternoon commenced with a talk from Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers with regards to the new contract. He successfully deflected most questions and didn't really tell us anything new in regards to how they are going to deal with the gaps in rotas or how they're going to rebuild their relationship with the profession.

Key points that were raised however were that there is no increase in pay between ST3 and ST8, apart from an allowance made for higher grades involved in decision-making. In theory, pay has been equalised across the period to protect those who may be taking time out, in particular women. It does however, seem a long time to go without a pay rise. Measures are also being put in place to make it easier to switch between careers with your prior experience being taken into account and facilitating your move into a later stage of training.

A student-led session on the Anti-bash campaign highlighted the impact that consultants' light-hearted comments about other specialties may be having on students desire to do said specialties. This was particularly with regards to psychiatry. More information can be found on the Anti-Bash website.

Achieving good medical practice was the final talk, informing us about a new GMC document specifically designed for students to enable us to understand what is expected of us. Copies will be delivered to med schools early next year.

Lastly, a Q and A session revealed some more worries of med students around the country:

  • Will private med schools steal all our placements? Apparently not. Interestingly, the NHS pays more for our placements than they would be able to afford.
  • How are we promoting a diverse population of medical students? The MSC is working with both primary and secondary schools to get med students and health professions in to promote healthcare as an option for everybody.
  • Is there a plan for in case we leave the European Union? No, please don't leave... Although I guess we'll know the results by the time you read this.
All in all, it was a very interesting and enlightening day, which made me realise just how many things are going to potentially affect all of our futures. The MSC has made a start by engaging with medical students at this conference, but it was obviously a very small representation of the student body. The issues raised could have such a huge impact on our lives, it is vital that we remain involved and voice our opinions whenever possible.

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