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Undergraduate Co-Ordinators: Help or hindrance?

Written by jacob matthews · Saturday 4th May 2013

Thanks to those who read my last post. I was encouraged to hear from my colleagues at Med school that the post sounded very positive and hopefully. A few of them queried whether I had actually written it because there was a noticeable lack of sarcasm or criticism.

So... the following posts may be a bit different. A little warning - some of what I post may be me playing "Devil's advocate" because I believe that everything should be questioned and sparking debate is a good way of making us all evaluate what we truly think on a subject.

With no further a do, let's get on to the subject of today's post ....

An Introduction to Clinical Medicine

The previous year was my first as a clinical med student. Before we started I naively thought that we would be placed in helpful, encouraging environments that would support us in our learning, so that we were able to maximize our clinical experience. My hope was that there would be lots of enthusiastic doctors willing to teach, a well organised teaching schedule and admin staff that would be able to help us with any difficulties. I hoped these would all be in place so that WE medical students could be turned from a bunch of confused, under-grad science students into the best junior doctors we could possibly be.

It seems that medical school and the NHS have a very different opinion of what clinical medical teaching should be like. What they seem to want us to do is 1) listen to the same old health and safety lecture at least twice a term, 2) re-learn how to wash our hands every 4 weeks, 3) Practicing signing our name on a register - even when this is completely pointless because there are no staff at the hospital anyway because the roads are shut with 10 inches of snow most of the time, 4) Master the art of filling in forms that no one will ever look at or use in anyway that is productive, 5) STAY OUT OF THE WAY OF THE BUSY STAFF because we are useless nuisances who spread MRSA and C.Dif where ever we go! How we all learn medicine and pass our exams is any ones guess!

Undergraduate Co-Ordinators - Why won't you make life easier for us?

While at my last placement I was elected as the 3rd year student representative for that hospital. While I was fulfilling that role it got me wondering what it is that Under-grad Co-Ordinators actually do? I thought this may be an interesting topic of debate.

1) Who are they and how qualified are they?
2) what is their job description and what are they supposed to be doing?
3) Are they a universal phenomena? or have they just evolved within the West Midlands?
4) Does anyone know an under-grad Co-Ordinator (UC - not ulcerative colitis) who has actually been more benefit than nuisance?

1) UC's as a species are generally female, middle aged, motherly types who like to colonize obscure offices in far flung corners of NHS training hospitals. They can normally be found in packs or as they are locally known "A Confusion of co-ordinators". How are they qualified? I have absolutely no idea, but I am guessing not degrees in Human Resource Development.

2)I am fairly certain what their job should involve: 1) be a friendly supportive face for the poor medical students; 2) organise a series of lectures; 3) organise the medical students into teaching firms with enthusiastic consultants who are happy to give them regular teaching; 4) ensure the students are taught clinical skills so that they can progress to being competent juniors; 5) be a point of contact for when any students are experiencing difficulties in their hospital and hopefully help them to rectify those problems to aid their learning.

What do they actually do? It seems to be a mystery. I quite regularly receive emails that say that I wasn't in hospital on a certain day, when I was in fact at another hospital that they specifically sent me to on that day. I often receive emails saying that my lectures are cancelled just as I have driven for over an hour through rush hour traffic to attend. I sometimes receive emails saying that I, specifically, am the cause of the whole hospitals MRSA infection because I once wore a tie.

I never receive emails saying that such and such a doctor is happy to teach me. I never receive emails with lecture slides attached to them so that I can revise said lectures in time for an exam. I NEVER receive any emails with anything useful in them that has been sent by a UC!

Questions 3 and 4, I have no idea what the answers are but would be genuinely pleased to hear people's responses.

The reason I have written this blog is that, these people have frustrated my colleagues and I all year. I am sure they are integral to our learning in some way and I am sure that they could be very useful to us, but at the moment I just cannot say that they are as useful as they should be.

To any NHS manager/ medical educator out their I make this plea

I am more than happy to give up 2 weeks of my life to shadow some UC to see what it is they do. In essence I want to audit what it is they do on a day to day basis and work out if they are a cost-effective use of the NHS budget? I want to investigate what it is they spend their time on and how many students they help during a day? I would like someone with a fresh pair of eyes to go into those obscure offices and see if they can find any way of improving the systems so that future generations of medical students do not have to relive the inefficiencies that we have lived through. I want the system to be improved for everyone's sake.

OR if you won't let a medical student audit the process, could you manager's at least send your UC's to learn from other hospitals where things are done better! If we (potential future) doctors have to live by the rule of EVIDENCED BASED MEDICINE, why shouldn't the admin staff live by a similar rule of EVIDENCED BASED ADMINISTRATION? Share good ideas, learn from the best, always look for improvements rather than keep the same old inefficient, pointless systems year after year.

My final point on the subject - at the end of every term we have to fill in long feedback forms on what we thought of the hospital and the teaching. I know for a fact that most of those forms contain huge amounts of criticism - a lot of which was written exactly the same the year before! So, they are collecting all of this feedback and yet nothing seems to change in some hospitals. It all just seems such a pointless waste.

Take away thought for the day.

By auditing and improving the efficiency, of the admin side of an undergraduate medical education, I would hope the system as a whole would be improved and hence better, more knowledgeable, less cynical, less bitter, less stressed junior doctors would be produced as a result. Surely, that is something that everyone involved in medical education should be aiming for.

Who is watching (and assessing) the watchers!