Aisling student compAisling Sweeney, final year medical student at Cardiff University, discusses her winning entry on the topic of ‘speaking up’ as part of the General Medical Council and Medical Schools Council’s joint competition for medical students.

My name is Aisling Sweeney and I’m a final year medical student at Cardiff University. When I heard the focus of the General Medical Council (GMC) and Medical Schools Council (MSC) joint competition this year was teaching about raising concerns and speaking up, I knew I had to get involved.

As a 5th year medical student, it’s safe to say that I’ve had my fair share of scary experiences. I know most of my peers can relate to being asked an unexpected question mid ward round. You probably know the answer, or could at least have a go, but in the panic of the moment you end up just going red, getting a bit sweaty and blurting out ‘I don’t know’.

Now, couple that scary experience with the words ’raising concerns’ and I’m certain that most medical student colleagues would agree that a feeling of uncertainty or dread crosses our minds. Combine this with the pressure we put ourselves under to perform well and succeed and it doesn’t make sense to speak up and potentially harm our chances of progressing through medical school.

You have permission to speak up

I decided to put together some teaching workshops for medical students, looking at how we can tackle the issue of speaking up as part of our medical training, studies and student lives.

I was keen to create a simple but effective teaching session using GMC’s and MSC’s Achieving good medical practice guidance to improve the way we approach raising concerns. The guidance sets out ways to deal with and raise concerns, but coupling this with empowering medical students to feel that it’s okay to speak up was my main aim.

So, do you feel uncomfortable yet?

My session starts off with introducing that uncomfortable feeling that day-to-day we can experience outside of medicine. For example, a picture on a wall not hanging straight, the volume on the TV being set at an odd number or simply stepping on a plug. I appreciate it is a simple way of looking at things, but I bet that even just reading that made you feel a little bit uncomfortable?

The session

I then wanted to create a session surrounding that feeling, taking everyone through some scenarios but giving each group an exact way to respond. This response may or may not be what some might have chosen to do in the past, but at the same time it might leave you feeling (yes, you guessed it) uncomfortable. This then opens an opportunity for discussion to challenge and come up with alternative ways of dealing with that situation.

The guidance behind the session

Using the Achieving good medical practice guidance to create my entry also helped me with sitting the Situational Judgement Test (SJT). The SJT sets out hypothetical scenarios where we have to make judgements regarding possible responses. These scenarios incorporate values and ways to respond that are in line with what the GMC and MSC set out as effective behaviour in Achieving good medical practice. So, using the guidance was a win-win as it not only helped me with the competition but had the extra benefits of preparing me for the SJT exam and for life as a junior doctor.

I was also surprised to see how easy it is to find relevant guidance for so many situations that I have come across in my five years at medical school. Plus, the guidance was easy to read without being overwhelming or ‘text heavy’.

If you change nothing, nothing will change!

I am delighted to have won the student prize this year. I hope that I have been able to raise awareness that guidance is there as a resource to encourage and reassure us that we have permission to raise a concern, and that we will be supported in doing so.

I will be graduating in July and hope to continue getting involved in medical education projects throughout the foundation programme.