During the day I work as a radiology registrar in Addenbrooke’s and as a clinical supervisor for the University of Cambridge Clinical School of Medicine and during half of my evenings I am immersed in WPMN activities. Let’s rewind, I will return to WPMN.
I grew up in inner city Bristol living below the poverty line in a single parent household. My mother let me choose my secondary school however due to our postcode not matching my preferred choice and despite only living a 25 minute walk from the school, she had to appeal. After a lot of back and forth I made it to the ‘posher’ school where soon after a joining a girl who I had become good friends with me she was not ‘allowed’ to walk in my area. Let’s just say that from an early age, I was exposed to health inequalities.
Aged 17, I became The University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust’s youngest governor to represent voices that are less often heard whilst juggling A-levels and applying to do medicine. I did not know anyone who was a doctor or medical student and neither did I have family friends in the occupation.
After 4 rejections without interview during my first application cycle my Head of 6th Form told my mother I should apply to another course in clearing to ensure I go to University. Instead, I chose to work as as a health care assistant in neurosurgery theatres and reapplied the next year where I received 4 offers and accepted Manchester. It was a gamble that paid off and I became the first in my entire family to enter higher education. My grandparents who travelled to Bristol from Jamaica in the 1950s were spectacularly proud.
From the first day of medical school, it was easy for me to notice the differences between myself and many peers partially due to the types of conversations. When there was an opportunity for me to relate to, for example when the discussion of gap years arose, I would say that I worked full time as a health care assistant and then spent a week in Portugal at the end of the year. This would often be followed by others feeling sorry for me – that was not what I wanted, I gained so much from it. The same happens when talking about my elective which I split between sunny Manchester and Salford. I had £45 left to my name before receiving my first pay in F1 and that’s excluding the £70,000+ I owe to the Students Loan Company so an elective with no additional rent fees and minimal commuting costs was the right choice for me.
As a medical student, I saw my differences as a negative and that lead to imposter syndrome. It was not until working as a doctor, I realised that my differences had a positive impact on patient care. So in May 2020 I founded the national charitable organisation Widening Participation Medics Network (WPMN), to support and advocate for aspiring and current medical students as well as doctors from widening participation (WP) backgrounds such as those who:
Barriers are particularly high for all these groups when applying to medical school, during medical school and beyond. And it’s at the heart of the reason why, we are collaborating with many organisations such as the General Medical Council, Medical Schools Council, Royal College of Radiologists, Royal College of General Practitioners, The Social Mobility Foundation and many more to break down these barriers which will have a positive impact on the workforce and patient care.
WPMN’s vision is that doctors in every specialty (including leaders) are representative of wider society. WPMN has been well received by the medical community especially my peers which has led to the rapid growth of our organisation in the first year and giving talks to more than 600 aspiring medical students from underrepresented groups. We understand that each person from a widening participation background is different, and the support needed will vary which is why over the next few years we are planning to create a scheme in collaboration with every Royal College/Faculty which will target final year medical students and foundation programme doctors from WP backgrounds. Not only will these schemes provide the individual with a matched mentor; they will have a role model, coach and sponsor. We are excited to launch RadReach this year in collaboration with the Royal College of Radiologists. It is not a 1-year mentoring programme, it is a developing community where longevity is key.
I am Nicolle, a 2nd year UCL medical student, and I am Madeline, a 1st year medical student at Swansea University.
We are members of the National Taskforce who gather feedback from regional representatives and share good practice, advocate for students and doctors based on issues raised, reach out to future collaborators and add to current research. We have set out here some key facts about WPMN, highlights from our first year of campaigning and our ambitious plans for the future.
Aspiring medical students are supported in their medical school applications with access to current medical students in 38 medical schools, an online personal statement bank and outreach webinars in collaboration with the Medical Schools Council.
WPMN’s current medical students have access to doctors across many specialties and are given the chance to develop their skills by being speakers at many WP events and conferences. By becoming reps, current medical students can also share their ideas for projects they would like to see implemented in order to enrich the experience of students and doctors from WP backgrounds. Through this process, students collaborate with senior students and learn from each other and develop their leadership skills.
Doctors within WPMN share their journey in blog posts, YouTube videos and give advice in the forums. We are currently recruiting doctors from WP backgrounds and allies to be representatives from each Royal College/Faculty and the Foundation Programme. Not only will they be an important source of information for our members, but we hope to create a scheme within each Royal College/Faculty similar to RadReach.
RadReach is a new scheme in collaboration with the Royal College of Radiologists targeted at final year medical students and doctors early in their career from WP backgrounds with an interest in radiology or oncology. Not only will they have a mentor; they will have a role model, coach and sponsor. RadReach is not a 1 year mentoring programme, it is a developing community where longevity is key.
We surveyed students from UK medical schools to find out where WP students are disadvantaged in their application to medical school, presenting our research at conferences, with our poster ‘Disparities in medicine application preparation and skills on admission to medical school’ deemed ‘highly commended’ by judges at the TASME spring conference 2021.
We run fortnightly webinars for aspiring medical students with the Medical Schools Council which has had around 450 attendees over the first 3 sessions.
Moving on to the second and subsequent years of WPMN, students will continue to contribute to the much-needed widening participation research in medicine. Integrating themselves in WPMN gives students opportunities to cultivate many research, presentation and teamwork skills that will aid their progression through their career. In the future WPMN hopes to give every final year student and doctor early in their career from a widening participation background access to a specialty specific mentoring scheme supported by all the Royal Colleges/Faculties.
Go to our website: https://www.wpmedicsnetwork.com
Email us, WPMedicsNetwork@gmail.com
Follow us on socials: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn @WPMedicsNetwork
We would like to thank all those who have supported us in our first year, especially the Medical Schools Council, who have enabled us to pay for our website domain and Zoom. We would also like to thank the Medical Defence Union and Adam Kay for their kind donations of prizes for our upcoming essay competitions and Movement for Modern Life who provided yoga sessions for our wellbeing week.
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