When thinking about the needs and wants of our organisation’s student members, and the needs and wants of medical students more generally, it often helps to bear in mind that the majority entering medical school in this country are school-leavers, many of whom may not have ever been in full-time employment before.
There are some like myself who have the benefit of years spent in a variety of work, ranging from weekend and summer jobs to rungs on the ladder of a full-scale career, learning how to deal with employers and getting some idea of how to protect their own rights in a world where those rights are increasingly at risk. There are others, of course, who have worked from an early age through necessity, and indeed could not have made it into medical school without having done so.
Medical students with this experience will more often be aware of the importance of joining a trade union, regardless of any extra benefits and bonuses that being a member may bring.
Many more students, unfortunately, may never get a chance to properly cut their teeth as an employee before they dive into foundation training – and have quite enough to be thinking about at that point without considering that the organisations employing them as a junior doctor may one day take advantage of them, knowingly or unknowingly, and infringe their rights. Some may not even have a clear concept of what their rights are, or what a trade union is and why it exists.
They may not therefore understand or see value in the fundamentals that membership to their trade union brings, things like collective bargaining or a contract checking service. They may not see the value, the necessity of speaking with a unified voice.
It could be years before many medical students put value in these things, and this is understandable. The concerns and interests of many will largely be confined for most of their pre-graduation life to four key domains: their academic performance and achievements, their social life and development as a person, their financial position (especially to those who do not have the benefit of ample funding from family), and arguably to a slightly lesser extent, their future career options.
Today’s medical students are faced with a plethora of options for study tools, revision resources and practice question banks, both online and in print form. The number is increasing month on month and range from free online services to expensive textbooks and pricey paid subscription courses and services. Students who make regular use of these resources can perform better at assessment and it would be rare to find a student who didn’t use one or more of these throughout their studies.
Student BMJ access is enjoyed by members and the BMA Library’s postal service is a boon, especially for those hard-to-find medical texts. The counselling service can also be of great help to students where they’d prefer not to use their university’s own service.
We want to make more effort to provide genuinely useful early benefits, along with the welfare services that are so essential so that students – our nation’s future doctors – feel valued and supported by their trade union and professional association from the moment they arrive in medical school.
We want students to engage with the organisation, grow and improve it and to be its future leaders.
There are too many students at the moment unable to see enough of a benefit in maintaining BMA membership while in medical school, then entering the workplace and finding themselves in difficulty without anyone to turn to and without enough of the knowledge or awareness to look after their own interests.
There are too many doctors unwilling to join the BMA due to stigma about being a ‘troublemaker’, born out of a lack of clarity or understanding that may well stem back to their own time as a student. If a doctor only first joins us because they’ve already signed an exploitative contract or they’re beginning to feel like their employer has been treating them unfairly for some time, they’ve joined too late.
Let’s be smarter and get things right from the start.
Callum George is Scottish Council Member for Medical Students and representative for ScotGEM
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