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16 March 2021

Aspiring Medics: an Engage with Education initiative

As part of the Engage with Education initiative, we have developed the Aspiring Medics mentoring programme at St Saviour’s & St Olave’s (SSSO) School for girls. The programme supports SSSO pupils who are planning to apply to study medicine in September 2021. It is delivered by myself and four other Company members – Freeman Dr Mariyah Selmi, Freeman Dr Marcus Clarke, Apprentice Dr Henry Searle and Apprentice Dr Tom Handley – who are all practising medics and passionate about widening access to medical training.

We view this as a pilot for a programme that covers a wider range of the Company-affiliated schools, and could also be replicated for other courses and careers by Company members working in other industries. 

The Aspiring Medics programme launched in early January 2021 and has been very well received, with a highly engaged and ambitious group of girls attending regularly. It involves fortnightly sessions, usually delivered online via Zoom, or occasionally pre-recorded (to allow Dr Tom Handley to lead sessions from a west coast USA time zone!)

The first half of each session consists of an interactive seminar, supported by slides, which either focuses on a key area of knowledge, or introduces strategies and skills useful for personal statements, entrance exams, and interviews. To date, we have run sessions on patient-centred care, personal reflection within medicine, alternative medical training pathways, medical ethics, and strategies for crafting personal statements. A particularly memorable session was one delivered by Royal Navy doctor, Freeman Marcus Clarke, who regaled students with exciting tales and photos of medical practice aboard a submarine, and set some young minds racing with the potential of a career in military medicine. We have sessions on entrance exam preparation, equity in healthcare, evidence-based medicine, and understanding and interpreting data coming up.

The second half of each session usually involves group discussion of articles or opinion pieces on topical issues relating to medicine; for example, the effect of the pandemic on the NHS, physician-assisted dying, and the use of genomic data in healthcare. The pieces are taken from high-quality medical journals such as the British Medical Journal or the Lancet, in order to familiarise students with this style of publication and encourage them to read more widely. The articles are shared in advance of the sessions, for the students to read through and reflect over, and they are encouraged to share their views and debate contentious and challenging questions that arise from the readings. Such lively peer-to-peer exchange can be extremely valuable for honing the ability to develop balanced arguments, and to respond eloquently to difficult questions under pressure – essential skills for performing well in interviews.

In addition to the fortnightly sessions, we have also introduced a one-to-one buddy system where each pupil is paired with a mentor who can give them personalised advice and support regarding university choices and personal statements, as well as interviews later in the year. This allows for more tailored support and feedback that is not possible within the group sessions.

It is of vital importance that all communities, backgrounds, and cultures are represented within the NHS for the delivery of equitable, non-judgmental, and compassionate healthcare.

While it has been challenging to set this up in the current circumstances, the need is all the greater. Secondary school pupils have faced significant setbacks over the course of the pandemic, with the opportunities to engage with schoolwork and to achieve career ambitions significantly hampered by social restrictions, lack of access to remote learning technologies, and disruption to crucial exams. The impact has undoubtedly been felt most deeply by pupils from more deprived backgrounds. The potential for widening of inequalities in educational outcomes and higher educational opportunities is a highly concerning prospect, and nowhere more so than in the field of medicine. It is of vital importance that all communities, backgrounds, and cultures are represented within the NHS for the delivery of equitable, non-judgmental, and compassionate healthcare. I feel incredibly grateful that we have been given this opportunity to mentor talented SSSO pupils to achieve their ambitions for a medical career within the current climate.

Over the past few months, we have found that the virtual environment can pose some unique challenges for the delivery of content and can be less conducive to active interaction; however, a virtual platform does in fact place the programme in the optimal position to expand its reach going forwards. Our vision for the future includes pupils joining the remote sessions from a range of schools, and those unable to join having the opportunity to watch recordings in their own time. Additionally, the remote format also allows for wider participation and commitment from the mentors, who can lead sessions from wherever they are based, and are able to fit the sessions more easily around clinical commitments. We hope that even more medics from the Company will come forward and volunteer to lead a session going forwards.

Looking beyond Medicine, it is my hope that Aspiring Medics can function as a blueprint for similar programmes for Engage with Education; where members of the Company can support pupils applying to a range of careers in different fields. We have demonstrated that this format works well for both students and mentors and is also a very rewarding way for members to engage with the Company’s work. An added bonus is the opportunity to get to know other Company members who work in the same profession.

I am proud of what we have achieved thus far and am looking forward to working with the girls to fulfil their ambitions over the coming months. I am also keen to work towards developing this programme into something that is sustainable and scalable over the years to come. I am very grateful to the teachers at SSSO, particularly Hannah Kennedy, for giving us this opportunity to contribute and supporting us to deliver the sessions. Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to my fellow mentors who have given up their time and skills for this programme.

Dr Maddie Shrotri, Freeman

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