Medical student Jonathan Gibb blogs about getting involved with new draft guidelines being developed by the General Medical Council and Medical Schools Council on medical students professional values and fitness to practise.
As a medical student entering my final year at the University of St Andrews, I have represented my fellow peers for the past two years on the Medical Students Committee of the British Medical Association and served as a former executive chair. As part of my role, I was privileged to be involved in the re-drafting of the joint GMC and MSC publication Medical students: professional values and fitness to practise [PDF].
Medical students: professional values
The new student professionalism guidelines [PDF] aren’t simply a list of what you shouldn’t be getting up to while studying medicine at university – they also provide you with guidance on how to take action if you see unprofessional behaviour which could endanger patient safety. Whistleblowing, and the frequently mentioned statutory duty of candour, are integral to keeping our patients safe. Yet, do most medical students really know where and how to report these issues? What if the concern was related to teaching at your medical school itself? Although, these are relatively rare issues, this guidance supports students in raising concerns throughout all stages of training. As doctors in training, our regard for the safety and integrity of our patients should always be our first priority.
Although primarily aimed at medical schools, I believe this is something that every medical student should read. Not to scare them, or to make them fearful of disciplinary action, rather to know how to recognise what may constitute persistent unprofessional behaviours.
Too often, medical students enter disciplinary action completely unsure of what to expect. Or why they are even there in the first place. Recently, a student confided in me that their disciplinary case was so disorganised, and internal guidelines so improperly followed, that their studies were vastly affected. This for me is unacceptable. Medical schools should, and for the most part do, ensure that students – who are experiencing issues surrounding their fitness to practice – are supported throughout. This guidance, similar to the excellent GMC and MSC joint publication ‘Supporting medical students with mental-health conditions’will hopefully ensure that awkward situations like this happen less and less.
In addition, being familiar with this guidance can help us to support our colleagues. There may be behaviours listed in the guidance that bring someone to mind. By supporting them, and providing them with information about an issue early on, you can really make a difference for them.
From day one of medical school, new medical students are thrown into the deep end. From punctuality to problem based learning, we’re consistently reminded of our unique position, and of the standards expected of us within the university. Studying medicine is a privilege, after-all. Even with page after page of reflections concerning professionalism, I sometimes struggle to really pin-point what it actually means.
For many students, professionalism is synonymous with one rather scary phrase – Fitness to Practice. From any figurative skeletons in the closet, to a silly blunder on social media, medical students can potentially face disciplinary action – something far from what their peers studying other disciplines would ever anticipate. I remember somewhat vividly the fear you have as a fresher, during the initial few days of term, when you have to try to get your head around these tricky situations.
Why is this necessary?
The fact of the matter is simple: we’re studying to be doctors and doctors have always had a unique position within society. There are few professions or degrees, where vulnerable members of the public routinely confide their often intimate fears and life histories, within a ten-minute consultation with a total stranger. No matter how much of a nuisance it may feel professionalism is very necessary in our work with patients. Navigating the barrier we find in separating our working lives from our private lives, the trust of the public is crucial to our practice.
What can you do?
Get involved! These guidelines are made for and with medical students. If there’s something you support, or rather disagree with, then share it! Your engagement with this is so important: as future doctors or policy makers, you’ll be influencing this guidance for the next generation of medical students. How do you think our attitudes concerning professionalism, among students, will change? This is your chance to take part in these two important consultations and share your views on student professionalism and fitness to practice.
Respond to the consultation by 11 November
The GMC is now consulting on both of these publications and wants to hear what you think. Please take part!