Thursday, February 19, 2015
In what ought to be his final year, our son has retreated from the medical school frontline back to our home in the bush, and as his parents, we hope that the nation’s medical schools take heed of Dr Kimberley Ivory’s call to arms.
Along with a sense of worthlessness acquired from ward rounds, his angst was compounded by a lack of cohesive administration from the Joint Medical Program, the much touted medical project undertaken by the University of New England (UNE) and the University of Newcastle to train students to become doctors in conjunction with a rural campus.
He spent the first three years of his medical degree at UNE in Armidale, and then commenced his 4th year (1st year clinical) at the University of Newcastle.
But he was unprepared for the rural / urban divide which manifested itself once he got to Newcastle with reminders from the University of Newcastle medical school that he was not a Newcastle student despite the fact that he had been issued with a University of Newcastle student number and a University of Newcastle student email address.
He was also unprepared for the suspension meted out to him at the beginning of the Semester as a result of issues with ClinConnect, essentially the ‘Police Check’ for health workers.
Notwithstanding that the two universities are part of the same joint medical program and the same health authority (Hunter New England Health), ClinConnect compliance proved to be ‘a mountain too high’ for the JMP, and whilst UNE medical school permitted hospital visits by virtue of his police check clearance, the University of Newcastle medical school did not.
Barred from ward rounds and struggling with the administrative chaos over email addresses and student numbers, he quickly fell behind, and the gulf between ‘actual’ student welfare and medical school spin widened in a most Kafkaesque way.
Upon his dismissal, an offer of counselling was proffered and then immediately retracted when it dawned on the interviewing professor that as a result of suspension, our son was no longer a medical student and therefore not eligible for counselling (you can’t make this stuff up).
Despite being reinstated on the course, our son was shaken by this episode and failed semester 1, necessitating a continuation of studies throughout the mid-year break to catch up with missed clinical rotations from the ClinConnect calamity.
He came back to semester 2 exhausted and worried that he didn’t know anything, even though we tried to reassure him that as a medical student he didn’t need to know anything.
But as ward rounds continued to be punctuated by fear of humiliation in front of his peers, his belief in himself was reduced to a whisper and we were not surprised when he subsequently failed Semester 2 as well.
However we were surprised that the JMP’s bureaucratic Catch-22 approach only got worse.
Whilst our son attended the requisite post-fail interview and submitted the requisite ‘show-cause’ form in the requisite time-frame, the JMP failed to contact him before the start of the new medical school academic year (January 19, 2015).
Without instructions from either of the JMP medical schools and not knowing what he should do, he emailed both medical schools on that first day of semester 1 to see whether they were able to instruct him on how to proceed.
He received an immediate automated reply from UNE to the effect that they were addressing his matter.
By noon the University of Newcastle Medical School had despatched an email advising him to re-enrol and continue with his studies. And then the University of Newcastle Medical School being the University of Newcastle Medical School, could not miss the opportunity to remind him that he was not a Newcastle student even though he had a University of Newcastle student number and a University of Newcastle student email address.
Finally at the end of the first day of Semester 1 he heard back from UNE that he was suspended for one semester.
In a strange way that final email brought peace at last and a chance to plan. Now the next six months ahead would not be dictated by the JMP or their muddle of email addresses and student numbers or their reminders that he was not a Newcastle student or even the unsettling high turn-over of UNE deans of medicine.
He is enjoying his ‘gardening leave’ and is gradually joining us again in conversation and thoughts, and most importantly his opinion; with regard to returning to the JMP, he is reserving judgment.
But as his mother I want to know where was the mentoring, where was the respect, where was the ability to empathise with a student whose confidence was so clearly eroded?
We all have a vested interest in the education of our future doctors, and as significant players in this community enterprise, we need our medical schools to play their part in a responsible and caring way … whether they are ‘Joint’ or not.