All walks of life - a medical student's perspective

Rebecca Jenkins used to fear the judgements of other people, but by the time she started medical school she was more confident - and open to listening to others' experiences of personal discrimination. Now a third year medical student, she explains how she got involved in the College's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Member Reference Group, and what we can achieve with this.
Rebecca Jenkins
Rebecca Jenkins

Growing up, I lived quite a sheltered life, in a fairly affluent, predominantly white area. This afforded me many privileges, not least that my family were able to live comfortably, but also because I wasn’t a minority in my background or experiences.

Until, as a teen, I realised I wasn’t straight.

I found accepting my queerness challenging; I feared others’ responses and judgements, and I feared what my future might look like if I were to end up in a same-sex relationship. My own internalised homophobia was probably the biggest barrier for me in my acceptance and coming out journey – I’m one of the lucky ones. But even so, I was now part of a minority group. 

By the time I started medical school, I was much more confident in my sexuality, and I could be proud of being bisexual. Starting university, I found myself in an environment with people from many different backgrounds and walks of life, which was quite a stark contrast from my home and school experience. For me, this only highlighted that there was so much still to learn.

I came to realise just how important diversity and representation really are for marginalised communities

I recognise I am very fortunate with the experiences I have had before and during medical school. I know that some medical students and doctors face discriminatory attitudes daily when on the wards, from their peers and from patients. A team at the University of Bristol are is running a research project, the STOMP study, to survey medical students about their experiences whilst on placement, with the aim to help tackle discrimination and unconscious bias – you can find details of the STOMP study here. With this research, we can hopefully start to make a small difference and create change.

I attended a Black History Month event in my first term of medical school, which went on to be the catalyst in my journey to championing all equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) matters. Upon reflecting on the talk, I came to realise just how important diversity and representation really are for marginalised communities. Not long afterwards, I was at another event, this time as a speaker, for LGBTQ+ History Month. I met a very inspiring group of staff and students whilst working on the event, whom I have continued to collaborate with since to help progress EDI matters within my medical school.

It was this work that made me keen to apply to the RCPCH EDI Member Reference Group (MRG), and to my surprise (as only a student member of the College), I was accepted! Whilst I can’t speak from a paediatrician’s perspective, I am personally very pleased with the outcome of the work the MRG has done. I think it’s so important to have representation of all backgrounds and experiences in all spaces, and I feel the work the College has done to help champion this will improve the working lives of paediatricians by ensuring everyone feels seen and heard.

I am excited to one day become a full member of a College that proudly welcomes and supports everyone

I personally worked on the Health Outcomes of Children and Young People (CYP) workstream within the MRG, as I am a big advocate for tackling health inequalities. In this workstream, we considered how socio-economic deprivation and geographical inequalities impact the health of a child, and we are looking to develop an improved understanding of all the factors which influence health outcomes. This means we can be in the best position to advocate for underrepresented CYP.

I have been very pleased over the last year to see the RCPCH publicly advocating for CYP, such as championing Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals throughout the pandemic. I hope the College continues to focus on health inequalities and how to address them, particularly within the landmark State of Child Health report. I also feel there is work to be done in helping represent marginalised CYP, to allow them to have a voice for change in what matters most to them.

I am confident that the outcome from the MRG will be of great benefit to everyone involved and I look forward to what we can achieve with this group in the future. I know I have learnt a great deal and I am excited to one day become a full member of a College that proudly welcomes and supports everyone.

Twitter: @medstudentbecca