Sheffield Widening Access to Medical School

Sheffield Widening Access to Medical School

  • Zoë Rubins
  • John Harvey

After telling someone that you study medicine, you patiently await the array of responses that tend to follow. Responses like ‘you must have no social life’, ‘medicine is so hard!’ or ‘wow, how did you get in?’.

We all know that securing a place at medical school is a lengthy and very daunting process. Many of us have been lucky enough to have supportive teachers and parents to assist in the process, maybe even to help fund extra courses to perfect our abstract reasoning, or polish that all important ‘why I want to be a doctor’ response. And still, the process remains challenging.

For some students, a lack of informed supporters and role models inserts an additional hurdle in the marathon that is getting into medical school. Many of this group would be the first to go to university in their immediate family or attend a school with low progression to higher education. Others face additional challenges such as disabilities or caring responsibilities. The challenges faced by all of these groups of students is recognised by initiatives collectively known as ‘widening participation’ or ‘WP’; which aims to provide inspiration, support and even, with some university-led schemes, reduced grade offers of entry. Many of these schemes are competitive, with limited intake, meaning not everybody who is interested in studying medicine is able to take part. This is where Sheffield Widening Access to Medicine School (SWAMS) comes in.

SWAMS are a group of medical students who are passionate about and dedicated to challenging misconceptions, raising aspirations and promoting medical school and medicine as a career option to those who may not have considered it. We believe that every student should feel they have the means and potential to explore a career in medicine, regardless of their background or connections. We work with both the medical school and central outreach team in this mission.

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, school students have been left to fend for themselves, with varying levels of remote learning, and potentially little support preparing for university applications. Students from WP backgrounds are likely to have been disproportionately impacted, with lockdown only emphasising barriers and disparities in access to support. This made accelerating our work, after only a couple of months of founding SWAMS in the pre-mask era, so much more crucial.

This New Year brought in the launch of our biggest project so far - a mentoring scheme, connecting WP students in Year 12 to Medical Students. By facilitating a platform and link to medical school we are able to share advice, experiences and support students through the process of applying to medicine. The response has been overwhelming, with over 100 people involved, all on a voluntary basis. By building these relationships we hope to bridge the gap for students who may not have any connections to the medical profession and make the process of applying that little bit more manageable. At a time when we have lost so much social contact, it feels even more important to make connections and share our experiences.

We look forward to sharing the impact of our mentoring scheme, and hope to build it’s scale in years to come - reaching even more potential medics across South Yorkshire. But for now, we can be sure that the process of mentoring is extremely rewarding, allowing us to connect with students directly. As Co-Presidents of SWAMS, we both have our own personal motivations. Whether it is having the privilege of sharing our own experiences and passing on the advice we have benefitted from, or helping shape the medical community to reflect the diversity of our patients. There is scope and rationale for all medical students to support widening access to medicine.

To stay up to date with our work, follow our Instagram (@sheffieldswams), check out our Facebook or email us swams@sheffield.ac.uk.