Guest post: the medical student view

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Sita is a final year medical student who has just successfully completed all of her exams and will be starting as an F1 doctor in August. Before starting work, she is spending a month with the neurology and MS team, learning more about both how we diagnose and MS in the hospital, and aspects of the clinical research that we are doing. She’s written a blog post reflecting on what she’s been doing so far.

My name is Sita, and I am a final year medical student at Barts & The London. As part of my elective, I have been doing some work within the Preventive Neurology Unit. Over the past week I have been contacting people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to recruit patients for our MS blood spot study. For those that haven’t heard of this, it is a study looking at COVID-19 antibodies in people with MS and whether these levels differ according to treatment type. I may have even spoken to some of you over the phone (if so, hello!). I thought for this blog post, it would be nice for me to share my experience and reflections on this process.

As medical students, we read multiple research papers. Papers contain several graphs and tables – it sometimes seems that the numbers are endless. The questions commonly asked are “Are the results statistically significant?” and “What do these findings mean for clinical practice?”. From my experience, I have usually been involved in the data analysis or data collection stage of research projects. The focus we place on learning how to read a paper and the analytics, means that we can sometimes be guilty of neglecting the personal element and human effort behind the process – only appreciating the findings of the research.

This was my first time being involved in the recruitment process, and I really enjoyed it! I have greatly missed talking to patients during the first wave of Covid-19. When we returned to placements after the first wave, patient contact was very limited, even for final year medical students; so, I relished the opportunity to interact with patients once again. I have been calling people with MS to provide them with more details about what the study entails and then collecting necessary information from those wanting to partake.

I found there was overwhelming enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in this study. People were undeterred when I revealed that, unfortunately, it would not be possible for participants to find out their own antibody status. Even people who had expressed concerns about the sight of blood and having to collect their own blood via finger-prick were still more than happy to attempt it and see how they coped. In the three days I have spent calling people, I would estimate that over 90% of people agreed to take part! Some of you even spoke to me about other trials you were taking part in. It was so lovely to hear how involved you all are with the research.

When a paper comes out, researchers and authors involved with the study often get praise – rightly so. But I think it’s important to also acknowledge the study participants. The reason behind research is to improve the lives of those the condition affects, and without the eagerness and effort of those affected, we would not even be able to conduct a trial – thank you! For me, it’s nice to be able to put a name to the data!

Disclaimer: please note that the opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the positions of the Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, nor Barts Health NHS Trust or Queen Mary University London

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16 comments

  • What a lovely post – and cheerful photo! – thank you and best wishes for your future career.

  • With such a patient-centered attitude, you will make a great doctor Sita! You would be a pleasure for any patient to partner with.

  • Dear Sita, having read your post, I’m delighted that you have shared your experience form your perspective. I feel it gives a more personal and human response to a trial and what you’re trying to achieve. You are right to say that we are inundated with graphs, figures and data that sometimes feels that it repeats things, just in a different format! I’ve not been part of a trial, although I have put myself forward for the odd one here and there, but to no avail – I’ll just keep trying and hopefully something will come up – I’m sure. In the meantime, I wish you all the best with your final year and up and coming career. You never know – having been trained and worked with some of the best MS specialists in the UK – you could be one to look out for and you get my vote in trying to find a cure 🙂

    All the best and it is good to hear from behind the scenes and a huge well done to the MS community for electing to take part in any study. Its big hugs from me xxx

  • Thank you so much, Sita. By coincidence, I was just reading a paper (in the field of teaching and learning) about methods of assessing critical reflection (CR) by experiential learners. CR is essential to learning from experience. Through CR, the learner draws conclusions, organizes them and applies them in the future.

    Your blog post is a fine example of CR. Thanks for reminding us of the importance for all physicians of regular contact with patients, and of keeping us at the centre of research and education. Most of all, thanks for your interest in MS!

  • The hospital where I work ( I’m also a pwMS) has recruited the med students to work as bank HCA’s during this last lockdown, to get relevant experience. I think this will be amazing experience for them, some have also been volunteering as porters! So they will get see how a wide variety of NHS staff work.

  • What a positive and thoughtful post. It is so nice to see someone who remembers that every pwMS is, first and foremost, a person. Very best wishes in your future career.

  • ‘The focus we place on learning how to read a paper and the analytics, means that we can sometimes be guilty of neglecting the personal element…’

    Don’t feel too apologetic, Sita. It is terrifically important for us all that our clinicians have an excellent grasp of these matters. There are plenty of doctors in practice who are as easy to bamboozle as civilians when it comes to (ahem) disingenuous presentation in abstracts (and drug company publicity materials…) of even something as basic as absolute and relative risks and benefits for a new drug or device. Don’t ever feel sorry for being smart! 🙂

    Thank you for a cheering piece and good wishes for your future. I feel sure that you will never forget the human element.

  • Great blog and photo Sita. I just wrote some blogs for Mental Health Awareness Week. One considered what make exceptional doctors, who stand out for patients. I concluded that they have an indefinable extra something that makes their practice an art as well as a science. I think you will be one of those exemplary doctors, by reading what you have been thinking about and doing. I wish you well for your career. The NHS is fortunate to have you.

  • Hi Sita
    Great post, great photo and good luck with the rest of your medical studies. Whatever speciality you go into you’ll be great!

  • Thank you all for your kind comments! It really means a lot to me and I am glad you liked the blog post!

  • Thanks for your lovely post Sita. Fantastic elective project, must be wonderful to be back in personal touch with real people again! All the very best for your finals and future career.
    Ps Neurology needs people like you! 😊

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