Ebele Aniereobi and Sophie Haughton, two of the University of Birmingham’s social prescribing champions, discuss the importance of educating medical students about social prescribing.
Social prescribing was, initially, a novel idea to us. Three of us were enticed into becoming champions by a post in the medical school’s bulletin extolling the benefits and importance of social prescribing, but for one of us, the inspiration came from a Future of Medicine conference.
Sir Sam Everington spoke about The Bromley by Bow Centre, a pioneering charity that combines an extensive neighbourhood hub with a medical practice and community research project. The fact that this model of integrating services based on individual needs has existed and thrived for 35 years tells us that social prescribing isn’t just wishful thinking, but a feasible way of transforming community health.
Our aim was clear: educate other students on what social prescribing is, and its relevance to them now and in their future medical careers. The need for this educational scheme became increasingly apparent as other health science students were just as unaware of social prescribing as we had been at the start of the academic year.
Garnering interest was quite difficult, and it seemed that our campaign on the importance of social prescribing was undercut by the lack of awareness surrounding it. For us, this raised questions of how exactly our healthcare courses should be preparing students for a career within the NHS.
At the National Social Prescribing Conference in March, hardly any of the student champions were well versed in the NHS Long Term Plan, or aware that social prescribing was a key part of it. This fuelled our drive to inform our peers about this aspect of medicine which will play a crucial part in their not so distant future careers.
Our aim was clear: educate other students on what social prescribing is, and its relevance to them now and in their future medical careers.
What’s more, equally low numbers of students at the conference felt part of the NHS. This is at odds with the value the GMC places upon students within the healthcare system, often referring to us as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the NHS.
Considering the disconnect between the NHS and students, it is no surprise that the policy changes and national schemes that will affect our generation have failed to trickle down to us.
As student champions, we promoted social prescribing by creating a Facebook page, an educational video, a social prescription ‘hunt’ and an information evening for International Social Prescribing Day. From the student feedback we received via the prescription ‘hunt’ and Facebook page, we consider our attempts to raise awareness of social prescribing a success.
To further our reach, we would need the university to begin closing the gap between NHS policy and student life. This could be achieved by educating students on social prescribing during their GP placements or through tutorials on the relevance and contents of the NHS Long Term Plan.
All of these ideas require a group of enthusiastic students putting the time and effort in to make it a reality. Our time as social prescribing champions has been truly worthwhile. Meeting and working with like-minded students passionate about change was not only fun, but fulfilling.