Saturday, 30 June 2012

Student Finance, please do your job

Currently listening to: She's a Rainbow - The Rolling Stones

If you go on any medical student forum or graduate entry medicine Facebook group, there's one topic which is guaranteed to make every graduate medic roll their eyes in utter exasperation and annoyance. This being Student Finance England, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with the UK system, the branch of the government in charge of deciding who gets how much student loan and then paying this throughout the academic year.

Of course, the student loans people don't just annoy graduate medics, and indeed I've heard grumbles from students across the academic spectrum. However, as graduate medics we are already entitled to less funding than "ordinary" non-graduate students. We don't get any grants or university bursaries, just the maintenance loan and tuition fee loan. Not even the full tuition fee loan I might add. So bearing this in mind, you can understand why we're pissed off at constantly being screwed around by this particular government body which doesn't even deign to fund us well.

The problem is basically this: the average graduate wishing to go back to university to study for a second non-medical undergraduate degree (BA, BSc, BEng, etc) is not allowed any further funding in way of student loans as they've already been through the university system once. However, it has long been understood that graduate entry medicine (MB ChB or equiv) and dentistry (BDS) are exceptions to this rule, so we receive the tuition fee loan, maintenance loan and the NHS bursary from years 2-4. All good so far. The NHS knows this, the Department of Health knows this, the direct.gov.uk people know this, even the hallowed BMJ did a piece on it for crying out loud. Except it appears that no one bothered to tell the Student Finance people about this rule. Since they're the ones who control the metaphorical piggy bank, it would have been good to include them when it comes to executing these kind of policies. Talk about a total lack of joined-up government.

So, prior to sending off my form (well before the deadline), I decided to pre-empt any chance of Student Finance idiocy by double-checking with them that they know what I'm entitled to as a graduate medic. A bit of confusion at first as the nice man on the phone didn't know what I was talking about, but he went off to talk to his manager and when he came back he assured me that I would be entitled to the tuition fee loan and maintenance loan. All good. A month later, I get a letter informing me that I am entitled to the princely sum of...£0.00. No tuition fee loan or maintenance loan. Obviously their system isn't aware of the exception made for graduate entry medicine and dentistry students.

To say that I was not a happy bunny would be understating it. Because now I have to write a letter and make more phone calls to correct what should really be something very easy for a massive organisation to do. The fact that forums and Facebook groups are FILLED with graduate medics writing about how they've repeatedly had to call Student Finance to ask them to correct this issue (and they usually do - they just need a lot of reminding), should suggest to Student Finance that perhaps it would be more efficient and effective if they were simply to fix their damn system so it doesn't implode when a graduate medic's finances need to be assessed.

It's really quite worrying that year on year a government department manages to screw up by assessing people incorrectly or paying them late and nothing is done about it. Why does this happen? Because students are a minority and graduate medics even more so. So no one cares. If the tax system or pensions system was to balls up in such a monumental way constantly, there would be an outcry. But as it's students, no one's really that bothered.

So, to get away from the rant, I am including some links below which may be of some use to graduate medics and dentsists in need of evidence of our entitlement to funding:

Official Dept of Health letter:

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_127923.pdf

direct.gov.uk (scroll to the bottom):

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Typesoffinance/DG_171537

Warwick Medical School:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/funding/undergraduate/mbchb

NHS Careers:

http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/default.aspx?id=557

BMJ article:

http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20003584

Know your rights, the law is definitely on our side. It's very irritating that so many students are having to waste their time educating a government body on what it should already know, but if the alternative is being left without funding, it's definitely worth taking the time to sort this out.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Just in case you're reading this

(This post will be meaningless to all but one person)

How are you? Happy birthday! I can't believe a whole year's passed since I last saw you. A lot's gone on which I wish I could have told you about. I especially wish I could have told you about getting into medicine, as I think you - more than anyone else - understood just how much that means to me. I have no idea if you ever looked at that scrap of paper upon which I scrawled this blog's address, or indeed, managed to decipher my rubbish handwriting, but if you did, and on the off chance you're reading this, I hope wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you're happy and well. You know I don't believe in fate, but I do hope some day our paths cross again by some fortunate coincidence or another.

Thank you and all the best!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Olive branch

Currently listening to: Sea of Heartbreak - Johnny Cash

I generally have a very good relationship with my parents. This wasn't always the case. Until the age of 18 I didn't really feel that close to them. Of course, I always loved them and they me but it wasn't a great relationship. This was mostly because I used to get in trouble a lot at school (why and whether or not it was justified is a whole other story) which didn't really impress them. But after moving schools at 16 (had a great time at my new school) and eventually moving out at 18 to QMUL, my parents and I gave eachother the necessary space for a proper grown--up relationship to develop. As such, our relationship nowadays is great and I can talk to them about nearly anything.

However, all through uni as our relationship was improving and maturing, there was one subject which was always guaranteed to cause an argument...and that was my desire to do medicine. I, of course, was set on medicine since childhood, had been denied it at 18 and embarked on my biomed degree with "med school" as my only plan for after graduation. My parents weren't happy with this. They considered it a waste for me to do one degree then chuck it all in and do something else. They were convinced that I'd be too old if I qualified as a doctor at 25 or more. That medicine was too stressful, demanding and emotionally draining for me anyway. That I wouldn't be able to afford it. That it was just too damn competitive and I would be one of the unlucky many not to get a place. Ignoring my constant reminders about how I hated the lab, they would repeatedly tell me about how I would do better at a career in biomedical research anyway.

Needless to say, I largely tried to avoid the subject of post-degree options with them throughout my BSc, especially since during years 1 and 2 when my grades didn't seem good enough for medicine anyway, as I didn't want to constantly be reminded about how I was indulging a pipe dream and how I could do great with a 2:2 and a masters followed by a PhD (I was given this particular piece of advice a lot). I'm fairly certain they would tell me this stuff out of a desire to not see me get upset about not getting into medicine and because they wanted me to feel more confident in my other abilities rather than get hung up on medicine. They're certainly not spiteful or discouraging, so because of the fact that they were doing it out of love, I didn't really feel angry at them, just slightly weary everytime the subject was brought up.

However, fortunately, this time last year I got a 2:1 for my degree, and then two months later did well in my UKCAT. Last summer, my parents realised that I was good enough to apply to medical school, and maybe even get a place. So they began taking an interest in my med school choices, giving me advice, and even better, listening to me and trusting me when I would tell them that I'd done my research and it doesn't matter if I qualify at 26, that there would be loans available, and that I would be able to handle the course. It was really great to see them taking an interest and not stubbornly continuing to tell me I should do a PhD.

So, credit where it's due, this past year they've been very helpful and supportive indeed and were really happy when I got my offer in March. They still do occasionally tell me that I must be mad for wanting to go into a career which can be very depressing/exhausting at times, but again, I think that's said out of concern rather than actually thinking that I'm not going to be good enough for it. And to top it all off, they got me a stethoscope as a "well done on getting in" present:


I had originally planned to buy my own stethoscope at the start of term (had heard discounts would be available)...but it was really nice of them to surprise me like that, and I suppose, it's an olive branch of sorts. Hopefully no more arguments, it's a bit too late now anyway because with less than three months before I begin my MB ChB, I'm super-excited and can't wait to get started!

Hope you're all doing great and everyone's exams/results have gone well!