For many students from BAME backgrounds, there is added fear about going back to placement as the factors affecting the impact of COVID-19 on BAME people are still unclear. According to Fizz, students are “quite worried about having PPE and anything else put in place to support BAME students when going back to placement."
As students face uncertain times, the society has stepped in to support them. "We’re essentially where the med students go to when they need help and it was no different during COVID,” says Fizz. “Students had different concerns; what was going to happen to their exams, their electives, their placement, their accommodation etc."
Early on, the society committee realised that communication between students and the faculty could become fragmented if they didn’t find a way to facilitate a clear line of communication. To address this, the society tabulated a list of students concerns, reaching them through social media and email, and put their findings forward to the dean. This meant the faculty could take on student’s concerns and decided to host Zoom webinars for each year group to help elevate those concerns. As Fizz said, "simple things like that – just debunking any of the myths and addressing the student concerns – that was our main, real priority at the time".
For the society itself, plans have had to be put on hold. Events were cancelled and moved online where they could be.
Fizz Ramjan, GKT MSA’s outgoing president told us about his time in office during the COVID-19 pandemic in a remotely recorded interview.
Students concerns – COVID-19 and beyond
Fizz said students are energised to support the Black Lives Matter movement addressing recent protests and more are thinking about what they’re doing to “ensure they’re addressing the concerns for black students. For example, little things like ensuring ethnically diverse case presentations really make a huge difference and it’s so important."
COVID-19 remains a high priority issue for students, as many still find themselves in limbo. "It’s all things COVID of course, so what are the plans next year, are we safe to go back to placement? If we were to go back to placement, then what support has been allocated for us? Specifically for BAME students. On top of that, how will lectures take place? What will happen with accommodation? …Given that the COVID is ever changing, I’m sure more concerns will arise."
Saying farewell to the post of president
Fizz is rightly proud of his team and tenure as MSA president. In his own words, “I’ve had the greatest privilege this year to work with my wonderful committee to ensure that GKT’s 2000 plus medical students’ needs are heard and also addressed.”
One of his highlights includes the Humans of GKT initiative. To mark Mental Health Day (10 October), the society launched Humans of GKT, an opportunity for the welfare team to acknowledge medical students and faculty members who had overcome adversity. The aim was to continue to break down the stigma of mental health issues and provide further support by signposting wellbeing support service and initiatives available to those who want to access them.
Among other achievements, Fizz said, “some of my own highlights were restructuring our rep system to allow for better student representation across placement sites and also developing a new MSA app which is going to be launched next year which I’m very excited about.”
Being a president is evidently rewarding but it’s also a significant commitment. As Fizz puts it, “the role is very time consuming and sometimes it can feel like a 9-5 job on top of going to medical school, but one of my own views is that an important characteristic of a medical student is of course being organised and also having good time management skills.”
The new committee is now running the society which means Fizz has more time on his hands as he moves into his next year at university. He leaves these tips for anyone who might hold office at a student society.
- Work together with people. We all have different backgrounds and different skillsets. Using that collaboratively will lead to some really fantastic outcomes.
- Set boundaries. At the start of the year, I was trying to be fully available, 24-7 to everyone and it wore me out quite quickly. Having boundaries, for example not reading emails between 9pm and 9am really made a big difference.
- Delegate. I’ve had a really brilliant committee who are also happy to help and collaborate with me. They all have brilliant ideas that I may not have thought of myself. We managed to create much better events through delegating and collaborating.
- Don’t take things to heart. When you’re in a leadership role, you’re naturally going to get some criticism where you’re not going to be able to please everybody. And that’s quite difficult sometimes when you put so much hard work in. But it’s not about the criticism itself it’s more about how you can moved forward – an essential skill to have.
Interview by Susheila Juggapah and Ffion Cowen