Scotland is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the NHS is struggling.
As conditions worsen, more and more professions are striking for better working conditions and pay. Two of these striking professions are nurses and junior doctors.
Both nurses and junior doctors have explained why they are striking and what they hope to gain from the strikes. As the current NHS staff force discuss their experiences, Brig has decided to extend the discussion to include the future NHS staff force. The aim of this research was to speak to different individuals about their personal experiences of working in the NHS and how they have found their university degrees.
The following is a series of questions and personal accounts from students of medicine, midwifery, and paramedic science.
Is your course what you expected it to be? How has your university prepared you for placement/employment?
B: “My course was a lot more challenging than I expected. Uni prepared us for placement well at first, but support started to lack as time went on.”
C: “The course is very full-on, which I expected. It challenged me every year and it was definitely interesting to what how my knowledge has progressed each year.
“What uni did not prepare me for was how undervalued you would be as a medical student. I went in thinking I would go to [a] placement and be a valued member of the team… only to (most of the time) be ignored by everyone in the hospital. [You are] ridiculed when you don’t know something and made to feel like a spare part getting in peoples’ way.”
E: “In terms of clinical content, medicine is fully what I expected it to be. However, there are a lot of futile aspects to our course which I feel to be very time-consuming and irrelevant to being a junior doctor.
“In terms of preparing us for placement, we were essentially thrown in the deep end with no guidance. We had not been adequately trained in venepuncture, life support, cannulation and clinical examinations due to COVID-19. Not only was this terrifying for us students, it arguably compromises patient safety.”
“Having a great patient experience and making a tremendous difference in someone’s life… There’s no better feeling.”
How does your university support you?
B: “Uni support was mixed… everyone had different experiences. During Covid our placements got cancelled… most of us felt so unprepared. We would ask for more placement time in labour wards which we never got. This was a major stress for the majority of us.
“I never had to go to uni for financial support however I know there were grants and things available and a dedicated, easy, [and] accessible desk in the uni for this.”
C: “The university is not going to investigate anything [and] that is the problem. People can be cruel. [People can] really ruin your placement experience but don’t you dare go to the uni about it because they will throw that feedback under the rug and never investigate it.”
D: “We are supported financially with a £10k bursary per year (under the cost of living). Mentally, we are very unsupported. Instead of being given mental health help for anxiety or depression, we are recommended to take a year out.”
E: “The university gives us very little support. In terms of financial support, the pressure of medical school means it is very difficult to work alongside your studies. There are no additional bursaries or support available for this. We do receive travel compensation which is £100 for a year. This barely covered the cost for one of my five-week placements. In terms of mental support, there is also little support. The waiting list for counselling is at least nine months long.”
“It was a push off the deep end and, if you can’t swim, you sink.”
Do you think the UK and Scottish parliaments are actively supporting the NHS and students on your course?
A: “Sadly, it would be a ‘no’ for both. The fact that the people that were clapped for during the pandemic, who worked relentlessly to save our lives, don’t deserve a pay rise, especially with the current inflation… is just something that absolutely disgusts me.
“The inability and failure of the UK government to sit down and discuss this is crazy to me. The Scottish government are slightly better. They have sat down and negotiated pay rises however the offers are still just not enough.”
C: “Absolutely not. By not paying junior doctors enough and increasing the strain on the NHS, it is putting people off ever wanting to go into the profession. How are you meant to go through five to six years of what can be the most mentally exhausting period of your life, to then want to be a junior doctor who faces s*** every day, and then- to top it all off- get paid pennies for it.”
D: “No. Do I need to explain myself?”
“At the best of times you could be standing behind a desk for near an hour without anyone acknowledging your existence. You could be two months or two years away from being a doctor and in no way do you ever feel like you will be prepared.”
Knowing what you know now, would you still have chosen to pursue this career path?
B: “I have good and bad days but the good days always make the bad worth it. It’s challenging and overwhelming and I have major imposter syndrome but I work with a really good, supportive team which makes a huge difference.”
D: “Yes. I like helping people.”
E: “Despite the working conditions of the NHS, [being] a doctor is a career which I still believe to be rewarding and worthwhile. Knowing the impact you can have on patients’ lives and the trust they put in you, in my opinion, outweighs any negative aspects of the career.”
Do you intend to stay in the UK when you’re qualified?
A: “No, I’m planning to move to Australia two years after I graduate so I can fully be registered in the UK by the GMC. Australia values their doctors more, they are better paid and have a better work-life balance, something that just doesn’t seem possible in the NHS as of now and in the foreseeable future. Pair this with the lack of training positions for doctors to pursue consultancy in a speciality makes it a no-brainer.”
B: “I dreamed of working in Australia for a short while but I’m not sure if I can see myself leaving the UK, not anytime soon anyways. I think the stress of learning a new country’s procedures, protocols, guidelines etc too much of a thought right now!”
C: “I’d love to stay in the UK currently. I think the NHS is a great asset we as a country have. But the problems associated with its staffing and pay wise is a huge deterrent. Going to Australia really looks like a far better option at the moment.”
D: “No. Better weather, better pay, better treatment elsewhere. Maybe Australia.”
E: “Unless working conditions and pay change immensely, I fully intend to work in Australia. This is due to a better work-life balance, better working conditions and better pay. Although being a doctor is something in which I have worked for my whole life, I do not want the career to consume my life.”
“The NHS could possibly be the last great thing we have today in Britain, don’t let them destroy it for us.”
A: Medicine student at University of Edinburgh.
B: Qualified Midwife with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Studied Midwifery at Robert Gordon University.
C: Medicine student at University of Glasgow.
D: Paramedic Science student at University of Stirling.
E: Medicine student at University of Edinburgh.
All participants were contacted separately- this was not a group interview.
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