Mini-series: Included from day one

Photo credit: Perry Grone, Unsplash CC0

In this Mini-Series on Embedding Belonging in the Classroom, Emma Sharland, a fifth year medical student, talks to us about her experience in the Edinburgh Medical School, and the importance of great transitions to ensure students feel they belong from day one…

It is well known that the transition between school and university is a turbulent time. Large adjustments have to be made to all aspects of your life, including feeling like you fit in and belong as part of your new learning community. Coming to medical school can be particularly daunting because, from day one, you are introduced to new professional responsibilities, whilst dealing with the pressures and challenges of everyday student life. This can all be extremely overwhelming, however here at Edinburgh Medical School there are some really useful tools in place to help make that adjustment and transition more manageable, and to help the students feel included.

One example of this is with our ‘medical families’, which are formed within the first few weeks of being at university. A barbecue or equivalent social event is hosted for all the first and second-year students to give everyone a chance to meet. Following the event, families of four or five are formed consisting of two to three members of both year groups. These families help students overcome the initial struggle of starting medical school, as the ‘parents’ help answer any questions and put the minds of the first-years at ease. Events are then held to help encourage families to spend time with each other, and ‘parents’ often provide academic guidance to their ‘children’ as well in terms of advice on the course and help on essays. This is an integral part of our initial experience as a medic at the university and it really helps ease a lot of anxieties about what to expect from the course. This support is definitely not to be overlooked.

All of these events and the families set up are arranged by our Final Year Committee (FYC). Each year has their own committee that hosts events to try and raise money for our graduation ball (a constant reminder that we’re all on this journey to the end of Medical School together). Not only do these events provide a great opportunity to socialise with our entire year group and meet new people, they also allow a stress-free and fun socialising opportunity at the start of university when this may normally be the most daunting.

Another aspect of our course that helps us integrate well together is the fact that we have small group teaching sessions with regularly changing groups. Throughout first and second year, we have small group sessions that are very interactive using a problem-based learning (PBL) approach. Our groups for these sessions change twice a year and they provide an excellent opportunity to get to know people who you may never normally come across. I myself have lived with one of the girls from my first PBL groups for over three years now. The constantly changing nature of our groups for different teaching sessions means that you get to learn with a variety of people who are not just your close friends. This experience is extremely rewarding because PBL groups and others often continue to meet up in a social setting years after the PBL sessions formally end.

The medical students’ timetable can feel chaotic and unpredictable, and this often means it’s more difficult for us to commit to aspects of normal university life, such as sport. One way we overcome this as a community is through the medic sports teams. These provide an invaluable opportunity for people to play sport casually and competitively around our hectic schedule. These teams also provide a social opportunity to get to know medics in different years, and are another really useful tool for becoming more involved in the medical school.

Overall, there are a range of different aspects that help us transition as smoothly as possible from school to university and to help us integrate into the medical school. We are privileged to be able to do a course that gives us so many opportunities, especially at a place where we are made to feel included from the beginning.

Emma Sharland

Emma Sharland is a fifth year medical student at the University of Edinburgh. She has a keen interest in paediatrics and hopes to be able to continue work in this area in the future. She currently jointly holds the position of Honorary Secretary of the Sports Union.

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