Grace Tan asks: “Are medical students being discouraged from attending scientific conferences?”

One of the top five reasons given by medical students for not regularly attending meetings is “discouraged to attend by department and university,” a survey by the American Association of the History of Medicine, an academic society devoted to the history of medicine and all aspects of health, has found. This finding resonates with me because my attempts to seek authorised leave of absence to attend the British Neuroscience Association national meeting to present a poster were met with initial resistance from senior lecturers and clinicians. I was told that I would risk failing the “professional behaviour” domain of the module because of unacceptable attendance, despite me saying that I would do extra clinical work in the holidays to make up for time lost.

Hands-on clinical experience in hospitals is of utmost importance, but medical training needs to take into consideration the importance of experiencing other areas of knowledge and expertise and understanding the scope of the research in basic science that underpins many clinical advances.

After appealing I was allowed to attend. Although the quality of scientific knowledge was high and I did not understand everything, I benefited from the conference. I learnt of examples in which a single patient has hugely advanced scientific understanding and many examples in which basic science has led to new understanding of disease processes and new approaches to treatment. The conference helped to broaden my perspective and increase my enthusiasm for clinical medicine and for further research in the future. Should research and personal study always be sacrificed for hands-on clinical experience?

Grace Tan is a third year medical student, Newcastle