On Living in London

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On Living in London…

I suppose first I should establish a little bit more about me. I’m not from London originally. I won’t say exactly where I’m from as to anyone who may read this who I know, it’s going to give the game away pretty quickly, but it’s not London, and so obviously doesn’t have all the wonderful perks of living in London.

Obviously I first moved here about 3 years ago after getting accepted to study, and have been in love with the place ever since. I love having all that culture, all those shops, restaurants, bars and clubs right on my doorstep. Being able to go out to a bar and get drunk and then just jump on the night bus home. Ok, there are some unsavoury sorts on the night buses, but it’s still preferable in my opinion, than trying get a cab home at midnight because the pubs have closed and the last bus went an hour earlier!

I love that I can jump on the tube and in less than 30 mins be sitting in a restaurant in Soho before going to the theatre. It’s just wonderful

The big problem I have with London is the cost, and this is something that continuously frustrates me about being a med student. I’m not from a well off background. I’m by no means poor, but I can’t go out and buy all of the at a glance medical text books for instance, and put them on credit card for daddy to pay off, like so many of my fellow students do. The thing is med school is bloody expensive. Even if you manage (somehow) to get most of your text books from the library (fat chance here at Kings!), and get the cheapest equipment you can get, it’s still much more expensive than other degrees. And unlike other subjects you don’t really have time for a part time or summer job. I have friends who did bar work and the like when they studied, but you don’t have the time for that at Med School, so if you don’t have a parent bank rolling you, then what do you do? Scrimp and save, cut corners, sneak onto trains without paying and hide in the toilet to avoid ticket inspectors, walk everywhere because transport is bloody expensive and often an unnecessary cost, and then suddenly it’s time to pay rent and BAM! that’s another £600 from your bank account. I’ll freely (admittedly only because this is quasi-anonymous) that I have…done things I’m not that proud of to pay my way. God I’m not a prostitute (although seeing what you can earn it’s a possibility!), but I will admit that I have escorted since I’ve been here. Perhaps it’s because I’m reasonably attractive (by all accounts), and reasonably smart and educated, but I’ve been ok at doing it, and it’s helped boost the coffers at times of need.

But I find the fact I have done this (and know of at least 2 of my fellow students who also have) incredibly depressing. Dear god I don’t think we should get special treatment – there is enough of that for med students as it is! – but I or no-one should have to do things like that from necessity. Perhaps I’m getting my political hat on here, but how can you justify charging several grand a month for a small flat in South London, and that’s south London without much of a tube or train network! The housing system in London needs to change, and quickly as it is unsustainable, and will only result in studying here becoming something for the elite (financially, not academically) and that’s fundamentally wrong. Rent caps are the only real answer. It’s irrelevant that I am a student. I have friends here who work and struggle to rub two pennies together come the 20th of the month despite being in a full time job earning over £20kpa and not wasting cash. It’s frankly obscene.

I guess this takes me back to something a friend said to me not long after moving to London. If you can afford to live in London, you can’t afford to LIVE in London. It couldn’t be more true.

Let’s Talk About Women in Medicine

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Barefoot Whispers

A while back, when my post about South African Public Hospitals was popular, someone recommended I write about women in healthcare. I chose not to because at the time I just didn’t feel really strongly about it. I suppose I kind of wanted to believe that there was no sexism in South African medicine, the same way I tried convincing people (when I was twelve, mind you) that there was no more racism in South Africa.

I mean, guys. There are more females than males in most classes at my medical school. Why would there be issues?? Anyway, the #YesAllWomen hashtag from a while ago had me thinking some, and then I tweeted this, and then I realised, “OMG, I have something to say.”

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On being a woman, in life and at Med School

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Last Wednesday i collected my OSCE results and found out i had passed and passed the year (bring it on year 4), I was insanely happy about this as i was convinced that i had failed and at the very least would have to take Part B and probably the year.

After collecting results i went out drinking and clubbing with friends, and several hours later found myself drunkenly fumbling with another girl in a taxi back to my place. The following morning as i lay awake in bed with her asleep next to me i started thinking about what it’s like being a woman, specifically at Med School.

First things first i’ve never experienced any sort of homophobia at med school. I’m not gay, and i haven’t discussed it with people openly (that i can recall), but my Facebook page clearly states i’m into both sexes, and if the topic is explicitly brought up then i’m happy to divulge information, but otherwise not so much. I’m a feminist and politically minded and a bit bolshy but i’m not a girl to stand on the parapet waving a rainbow flag! But considering the misogynistic nature of med school (specifically here at kings) and of medicine in general, i’m actually a bit surprised i haven’t experienced or seen any homophobia. Of course if any reading this does then i’d be keen to know what happened. I suspect it may exist more for men than for women, but i have no evidence to back this up.

Despite what many people would have you believe there are not equal rights for men and women in the world. Everywhere you look it is clear that it is a male centric world. The gender pay gap, magazines hell industries based purely around dieting. Message boards and forums on the internet full of comments about how fat a woman is, whereas it’s absolutely fine for a man to be overweight. Stories about people losing their job for getting pregnant. Recently i downloaded the whisper app onto my phone and was briefly entertained by it, when eventually i started to post on it, generally quite unexciting things, i was immediately bombarded with messages off men of a sexual nature, to a sometimes slightly scary level. This is only a small snapshot of things. I wont even get onto the Daily Mail as that is a whole other blog! This frustrates me as i’m a hell of a lot smarter and more competent than a lot of guys i know, yet because i have a vagina i’m worth less? That’s a load of crap! 

 

This movws me onto medicines. The, well one of the, things that frustrate me most about medicine is that it all based around respect and some absurd hierarchy, similar to the police. The higher up this hierarchy you get the more untouchable you become, regardless of ability. You are able to make sexist comments, be incompetent and rude and generally a hateful individual, yet because you are a consultant it is fine. The amount of stories about people having stethoscopes stolen by consultants is endless, and that’s just one example! I remember in the early years of med school being in a lecture where women in bikinis where shown on screen to a number of inappropriate remarks, yet this is OK because it’s a woman. Frequently around the hospital you are considered by other staff members as inferior or less because you have ovaries. It frustrates the hell out of me. And then we move onto specialties. Just because i’m a woman doesn’t mean i want to go into OBGYN or paeds. Both of these terrify me! I don’t understand children, and contrary to popular belief(!) i don’t actually want to look at vagina’s all day :-p Personally being a surgeon or something neuro-y appeals much more to me! And then we move on to the joys of my fellow students. So much of med school life is about being competitive. Hell i’m as competitive as the next girl, but seriously does our life need to really revolve around being thin and going to the gym all the time and running and running miles and miles. You know what? Sometimes if i’ve had a shitty day i want to come home and eat pizza and drink heavily. Not be pestered to go for a five mile run or judged the next day because my skirt is a little tight. 

Sorry, but these things infuriate me. Men don’t know how easy their lot is. They really don’t.

Admittedly i then did look down at the girl next to me and think she was really cute so things weren’t all bad :-p

Mental Health and Medical Students

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Being as I can’t sleep, I’m doing what everyone else does once they have stalked people on facebook, looked at pictures of cats, listened to old pop music on youtube and debated watching pornography – read about things that might kill you!

I think i’ve read and commented on this article before, albeit elsewhere, but i think it’s probably worth mentioning here too:

http://bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/news/2013/february/rise-in-student-mental-health-reports

I’m now in my third year of medicine, and also have friends in lower and higher years so i think i have a decent broad spectrum of fellow students, and in my opinion mental health is a colossal issue with medical students, and one that is regrettably overlooked. I know of several students who will admit to having diagnosed mental health issues ranging from depression to anxiety, and know several more who are almost definitely diagnosable, and then further ones who seem to mask their problems with alcohol or cigarettes or a….reckless social life.

I am happy to admit here that i have a history of mental illness here, and in the past have been treated for both anxiety and depression. I remember the first time i was properly depressed coming to terms with my sexuality as a young teenager and just realising quite how terrifying the world could be. Fortunately the place im in at the moment isn’t too bad *touch wood*, but i think i’m a lucky one here.

With medical students, in my opinion the problems with mental health are manifold. As much as it is embarrassing asking for help, i know i would never have dealt with any of my issues without doing so, and the machismo within medical students is so that admitting any problems however small is a sign of weakness, and something such as a mental health problem is essentially considered as suicide amongst many. The big problem is that this is exacerbated by the institutions themselves. So much is set upon ‘fitness to practice’ and ‘professionalism’, yet these are such arbitrary terms and no one seems willing to specify what actually falls into these categories (although i think that is a blog for another day) that people are terrified to seek help. If you are having problems at uni, you want to speak to the uni about it if you are going to speak to anyone, yet the pastoral care within medical schools, KCL at least, is so atrocious that no real care would be offered, and then there is the, very real concern, that the school will turn round to you and say ‘oh, yes, we are kicking you out of the school because you feel sad’. To none students this may sound crazy, but this actually happens (well i’m simplifying it of course, but you get my point).

It seems that, as in university, medicine is considered as a ‘different subject’ and not governed by the rationality of other subjects, and that extends to mental health. Even despite the attempts of our current government, provision for mental health is greatly improved on that of my parents generation, yet within medicine, as with so many other things, we are decades behind in the way that we treat our students.

There will be a tipping point one day where the universities realise they have to actually help their students properly, without fear of consequences, and students genuinely feel that they can get proper support without the risk of their futures being ruined.