Taking on the duties as an officer while studying at university can be rewarding – but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. However, taking on these duties as the world is engulfed in a global pandemic isn’t quite what a student might have in mind when they’re elected to become president of the medical student’s association for Guy’s, King’s, and St Thomas’ medical school (GKT MSA).
We spoke to Faeez "Fizz" Ramjan, a fourth year medical student at King’s College London, about his experience working as the society’s president alongside his studies and how the society has supported students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What does the medical student’s association do?
The GKT MSA is a group of elected students who advocate for student’s needs; from social, to welfare, to educational needs. The society works with the faculty and the wider student union to raise concerns, signpost for welfare, and also to put on a host of different events for the 2,000 students in the medical school.
These include educational events, for example, OSCE lectures where doctors come in to teach OSCE skills, as well as welfare events such as wellbeing week. The society also supports students’ social needs with social events, for example for fresher’s fortnight and a winter ball.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on medical students
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on medical education, leaving many students unsure how their progress through medical school will be affected. For almost all students across the country, physical lectures and in-person placements were cancelled, in some cases overnight, responding to government requirements to enforce a nationwide lockdown.
However, it’s not just the disruption to studies that students are worried about. As Fizz remarks, "from a welfare perspective, many of our students may be vulnerable or have family members who are also vulnerable, and these sorts of stresses, as well as the stresses of medical school in general, can actually be very overwhelming."
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