A series of seminars took place this autumn as part of MPW’s preparation programme for prospective medical students.
Back by popular demand after a successful talk last year, Consultant Radiographer Sarah Burnett came into college on 27th September. Dr Burnett is an experienced medical practitioner, having been the lead physician in a Casualty department, worked in the Medical Admissions department of a Russell Group university, and conducted research. She gave an engaging talk about the highs and lows of her profession.
Dr Burnett elaborated on the reasons our students might want to pursue a career in Medicine, including the incredible high of successfully treating a patient, but balanced this with some examples of the harder aspects of the profession. She talked very candidly about a time she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following working in Casualty during a major crisis but then lightened the mood with amusing tales of treating children. The students were fascinated, not only by Dr Burnett’s insights into the medical profession, but also by some unofficial interview advice, including how to present yourself and how you might answer some of the more difficult questions.
“First, do no harm” – but what comes next? Dr Amy Wilson, a GP Registrar, was kind enough to debate some Medical Ethics issues with our students on 3rd October. The subject goes back officially as far as 1794, when Thomas Percival published a Code of Ethics for doctors to follow. Dr Wilson explained the four key principles of Medical Ethics: respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. In short, their intention is to make sure that the patient is listened to and that doctors are guided to act in the best interests of the patient.
Principles are all well and good in the abstract, but what if a patient refuses breast cancer treatment? Can you force feed an anorexic? A doctor must assess the patient’s capacity: do they understand their condition? Can they remember their diagnosis and make an educated decision about treatment? If they have capacity, their wishes are followed; if not, the doctor must make the decisions.
Dr Wilson discussed a number of recent controversial and widely reported cases of Medical Ethics. The first involved a seven-year-old with a brain tumour whose mother did not agree with the treatment plan. She withdrew him from the programme of chemo and radiotherapy that the NHS had proposed, but a High Court ruled that she was not acting in his best interests and she was forced to re-admit him to hospital. Another tragic case was of a man with ‘locked-in’ syndrome who wanted his wife to help him commit suicide. In this case, she was advised that if she did help she could face a legal charge after his death, so they did not go ahead.
Dr Wilson’s talk was very engaging and the students were able to ask her a lot of ‘what if’ questions, all answered with reference to capacity. Make sure you say that in your interviews everyone!
Our third open lecture was given by Dr Victoria Allen on October 9th. A recent medical graduate herself, Dr Allen gave the students an insight into what learning to be a doctor is really like, including everything the universities themselves ‘forget’ to mention. From 100-hour weeks to sunning herself in Sri Lanka, it was a very frank and entertaining description of her years of training to date.
We started with the dreaded Interviews. What to say, and what not to say (the most common cause of death in the UK is cardiovascular disease not cancer, and don’t tell Admissions Tutors you’d like to practise Medicine ‘to help people’). Dr Allen pointed out that an interview for a place at Medical School is essentially a job interview to be a doctor and students need to prepare accordingly. Dr Allen compared her time at Medical School to running a marathon, with endless learning and work to be done. Medical students work extremely hard, but then again they probably need to: if you become a doctor, your decisions could save or kill someone. Patients and their families trust you to heal them. It’s scary stuff.
One of the highlights of the course for Dr Allen was the intercalated part (she spent eight weeks between Sri Lanka and South Africa, while a friend went to Fiji). Lows included rectal exams and the terrifying moment when she was called upon to save a patient who wasn’t breathing. It was clear that, despite the ups and downs and the obvious stresses, Dr Allen was passionate about Medicine and her enthusiasm was, as you might say, infectious.