As the lead for student Fitness to Practise at the University of Manchester, one of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to use your defence organisation. If you're referred to an FTP committee, get help from the MDU – immediately!

The MDU has a lot to offer students facing an FTP committee, but we continue to see students who fail to take advantage of this crucial benefit of their membership. Yet the MDU can do so much to help.

Preparation for a committee meeting

A medico-legal adviser can help you prepare a written submission and help you get across the message you want to give to the committee. They can give good advice about how to prepare for the meeting  is it best to fight the case to the death and deny everything, or should you demonstrate an acceptance and a determination to turn over a new leaf and do better? I am not suggesting you should own up to something you haven't done!

Testimonials

An adviser can also help you collect correctly formatted testimonials and prevent howlers. Examples I've seen have included a student with a serious alcohol problem who submitted a single testimonial  from his pub landlord. Or another who had received a prison sentence for fraud and who submitted a testimonial on her own behalf, saying she was a totally honest person.

A number of students submit testimonials from their relatives. These are always favourable, but they lack the objectivity that's needed. For this, they need to be written by a professional involved in your education. This could be a clinical supervisor, or at least someone who has been fully informed about the reasons for your referral to FTP.

Support at the FTP committee meeting

On the day of the meeting, a representative from your medical defence organisation can be invaluable. The knowledge that you're accompanied by someone familiar with these meetings can be very reassuring, and whilst the representative can't answer questions put to you, there's still much useful advice that can be given. It's also helpful to be accompanied by someone who can speak up if the meeting is being incorrectly or unfairly handled.

Don't delay

If you are suffering from appendicitis, should you wait until it has perforated and you're at death's door from peritonitis and septicaemia, or should you get help a bit sooner?

Seek help immediately upon learning you are to be referred to an FTP committee. We often encounter students who only contact the MDU at a very late stage, sometimes only a few days before the meeting, which gives the advisers very little chance to assist.

The need for evidence

Always supply evidence in support of an explanation for your difficulties. If, for example, you had to spend time with your uncle who was having a triple coronary artery bypass and who was counting on your help and support, get a medical report from the hospital to verify this.

Could you have done better? Do you have insight?

Insight can mean many things. It can include the ability to step back from the situation and consider it objectively; a recognition of what went wrong; an acceptance of your responsibilities at the time in question; an appreciation of what could and should have been done differently, or an understanding of how to act differently in the future to avoid a reoccurrence of similar problems.

Avoid deflecting the blame

If you have done something wrong, avoid blaming others. Accept responsibility for your own actions. I recall a student who uploaded a piece of work written by another and pretended it was his own. Instead of accepting responsibility, he produced an obscure publication suggesting that plagiarism is common  in other words, 'everyone does it so don't blame me!'

Always co-operate

You may find it hard to accept criticism from colleagues if your behaviour is being scrutinised, particularly if you don't believe you're in the wrong. But don't take it out on the messenger.