Anxiety · Depression · Medical school · Mental health · University

Telling the big bosses

At the beginning of medical school, I remember having a scary lecture along the lines of professional behaviour. Prominent in this lecture was “Fitness to Practice”. They really made a point of how the second your behaviour compromises your safe practice as a doctor/medical student, you will be hauled in front of the GMC and have your fitness to practice assessed.

Obviously I understood why they brutally rammed the point home, but it had the unintended effect of making me more than a little unwilling to tell the medical school about the state of my mental health last term. I had all sorts of worries (later proved unfounded) about whether I’ll be considered “safe” as a practicing doctor in the future. Would I be deemed fit to carry on in the course? Would they berate me for letting my health get so out of control? What would even happen once I did tell them?

I had a great start – I had no clue where Pastoral Support lived. I asked around in my study group and was promptly directed to a hidden reception area near the lecture theatre.

Having made a half-hour appointment for the following week, I later came back to the same small reception. I was eventually called in and the woman inside invited me to sit. Since it was my first appointment, she told me more about the pastoral care team and how the team will deal with the information that I give them.

First, they are confidential and impartial. She reassured me that all the medical school would see was that I had used the service: no other information (unless life-threatening) will be shared outside of the department. The only people who will be able to see the case notes are the other staff in pastoral care.

The person I came to see (whom I’d mentioned in a previous post) is a doctor and an alumnus of the same medical school. So she really knew what students are going through and what kind of help they need. After the introduction, she asked how she could help me.

Ten minutes later, after many stammers and a few tears, she had a pretty good idea of the last couple of weeks. She gave me some logical advice (“have you considered seeing your GP? Counselling?”) and seemed pretty happy that I was on the right lines. Then she talked about the possible adaptions to the course that could be made. These included the options of suspending my studies until the following academic year, submitting mitigating circumstances for the upcoming exams, and speaking to Occupational Health especially when the clinical years come around.

The GMC and medical schools appreciate that Medicine is a tough degree. They expect students to come into some kind of difficulty in their time. So they put frameworks in place in case the students need to lean on them. They know that to get the most effective, safe doctor later on down the line, they need to look after the medical students.

Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the full extent of the support available for students so I had a ton of senseless worrying about asking for help. I’m also aware that even if I was sure of what to expect, I would still be riddled with anxiety going through it. I’m hoping that this post may alleviate some of the worries that someone may have about seeking help.

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