Medical schools given student support guidance
The General Medical Council (GMC) has announced that universities are to be offered more help in supporting medical students with mental health problems.
The move, designed to benefit medical students now and in the future, is intended to help ensure that future doctors can provide the best possible patient care.
The new guidance states that those training to be doctors can be under considerable stress and that adequate support needs to be in place. It says that medical students are often reluctant to ask for help and calls on doctors and medical schools to de-stigmatise mental illness and for much more openness about the issue. It also says the GMC has its part to play, by making it clear having a mental health condition does not necessarily mean that a doctor is unfit to practise or a student to undertake their studies.
The guidance makes clear that students can be affected by a range of conditions including:
- anxiety disorders,
- eating disorders, and
- substance misuse.
Any one of these can affect the student’s ability to undertake their studies.
The guidance goes on to suggest that medical students who are supported properly will provide better care for patients in the future. It also urges medical school staff not to treat students themselves but ensure they have access to independent and appropriate medical support.
Developed in response to requests from medical schools who have said that this is one of the most complex situations they face, the guidance includes examples of good practice and advice for medical schools on how to provide the best possible help for students who are struggling with their course. It is designed to complement, not replace, the support systems that medical schools already have in place.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:
‘These are the doctors of tomorrow – it is crucial they are given the support they need at every stage of their training. We need to be open about this – doctors like every other group in society have mental health problems which can affect their lives. In the vast majority of cases, with the right support they can be dealt with successfully, but it needs a culture which encourages students to come forward and seek help and it needs that support to be there. An awful lot of good work is going on in this area and we hope this new guidance will help every medical school to provide the best possible support to their students, building on the good work already being done.
‘We believe the guidance will benefit medical students now and in the future and help ensure that future doctors can provide the best possible patient care.’
Examples of good practice highlighted include:
- Birmingham Medical School’s ‘Feel Bright’ Campaign – this was set up as a joint initiative between student representatives and senior welfare staff to promote good mental health and well-being and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. The initiative includes interactive lecture sessions for first year students with sessions led by medical student volunteers to discuss common myths and how to promote good mental health. The campaign is supported by a dedicated website: University of Birmingham Psychiatry Society website.
- Newcastle University Students Wellbeing Service has established links with key external services including local GP practices, regional eating disorders teams and the North East Centre for Addictions among others to provide targeted help for their medical students.
- The University College London Student support card scheme – University College London found that medical students were reluctant to ask for time off a clinical placement for medical needs especially early on in a placement. The card scheme allows students who have health problems to talk to their senior course tutor about their condition and the adjustments they need. The tutor issues them with a card stating that the student has a medical condition and the reasonable adjustments they need with the senior tutor’s contact details. This process has been well received by students.
Further details of ‘Supporting medical students with mental health conditions’ is available on the GMC web site at www.gmc-uk.org/education/undergraduate/23289.asp