‘Inspiring Stories’ with Zain Akhtar

Medical Student (BM6 Year 4) and former WAMSoc Co-President


This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

What do you do to engage and outreach with the public or patients?

My main involvement with public engagement, as a medical student, has been through the Widening Access to Medicine Society (WAMSoc). I came across WAMSoc during my foundation year of the BM6 programme. Participating in a WAMSoc “buddy day” was my first experience of public engagement. The WAMSoc “buddy day” is an interactive session for students from Year 7 – 12 where they are given an insight into what it’s like to study medicine. The main focus of each session is the fun practical elements that allows students to take part in basic clinical skills and learn about the science behind many common health problems. As I’ve progressed through medical school, I’ve increased my involvement in WAMSoc by being a part of the WAMSoc committee and taking on different responsibilities within the society. During this time, I have had the opportunity to get involved with all the projects that WAMSoc organise. 

The WAMSoc eMentoring programme is an opportunity for prospective medical students to contact current medical students, via email, for support on their application process. As a WAMSoc eMentor, I covered topics such as UCAT preparation, interview tips and proofreading personal statements. As a result, I believe my eMentee was better prepared and more confident for the medical school application process. 

The WAMSoc conference is an annual conference that prepares students in Year 12 for the medical school application process but also gives them an insight into life as a medical student. The event comprises of guest speakers and workshops with the aim of giving students the best possible start to their medical school applications. During our virtual WAMSoc conference this year, I organised a UCAT workshop which provided students with an understanding of the test format. They were also given tips on how to approach each section of the test and directed to accessible resources to help them with their preparation. 

The WAMSoc mock interview workshop is an opportunity for prospective medical students to experience a variety of example questions and scenarios that students may face in real life medical interviews. Students can therefore practise their interview techniques in an environment where they can make mistakes and allows for reflection and improvement. I strongly believe that a mock interview boosts the skills and confidence of prospective medical students and should be accessible to all. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the mock interview workshops were organised online this year. Organising a virtual mock interview workshop is challenging but with the hard work and dedication of many WAMSoc mentors we succeeded in carrying out this task. The feedback we received from participants highlighted the importance of such an intervention for prospective medical students.

What has driven you to participate in public engagement or patient involvement?

I believe WAMSoc is based on the objective of inspiring and empowering students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, in applying to medical school. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may have the potential to achieve a place at medical school but are unfortunately disadvantaged due to the lack of support and guidance available to them. As I come from a lower socioeconomic background myself, I can relate to the challenges faced by prospective medical students from the local schools and colleges that are targeted for widening participation by the university. I remember when I first applied to medical school, I was poorly prepared for the application process due to the lack of resources available to me; there was nobody to advise me on the application process as a mentor, I didn’t have the privilege of receiving constructive feedback on my personal statement, my college didn’t organise mock interviews, etc. My personal experience has therefore driven me to help students overcome the same hurdles I had to overcome. This has resulted in me becoming passionate about widening access to medicine.

Why do you consider Public Engagement / Patient Involvement to be important?

My experience of public engagement with WAMSoc has highlighted that we can have a positive impact on the future of the young members in our community. For example, with WAMSoc a “buddy day” may inspire a secondary school student into considering a career in medicine by emphasising that it is a realistic possibility for them. Whereas a mock interview workshop may boost the confidence of a student with an upcoming medical school interview allowing them to fulfil their potential and achieve a place at medical school. These positive impacts show that through public engagement we can address inequalities and make a change for the better in our society. ​​​​​​​

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

UoS Medicine websiteFacebook, Twitter, YouTube

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Zain Akhtar

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