Henry Murphy on being a BMJ Clegg Scholar

There are moments in life where you feel like you’ve made it. Sipping mint tea from a CNN mug whilst helping to decide on this issue’s cover image, I feel like I’ve made it. It may not seem much, but I’ve been interested in journalism since day one at medical school, and have been granted the opportunity to take my interest to a more professional level by securing a placement at BMJ. A tutor once told me that they didn’t read a fiction book until they graduated, and ever since I have been determined to cling on to my extracurricular life despite the academic rigors of medical school. After several years of rejection, I have finally been successful in my application to the Clegg Scholarship, an eight-week placement at the BMJ headquarters in BMA House.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three weeks since I started; the learning curve has been exponential. At first, everything was overwhelming, new, and stressful. It would be an understatement to say that the transition from the Peninsula Medical School in rural Devon to the BMJ offices in Central London was a huge culture shock. My commute to A&E in April consisted of three seconds, or a few short strides, and I could roll out of bed and be up to my elbows in theatre within ten minutes. Now I find myself discovering new uses for my elbows on the Tube, struggling to decipher the London Underground map, whilst wondering how to get anywhere on time without looking and feeling like I have ran a marathon.

I have traded in revision, venepuncture, and six weeks of oncology for updating the Student BMJ Facebook page, answering author’s pitches, reviewing manuscripts, attending gallery openings and conferences, and even a bit of writing. Excitingly I have my own desk, right next to the BMJ News team, who don’t shy away from sharing the latest stories or journalistic gossip. I can flit between shadowing the much larger BMJ team, who produce “copy” weekly, to getting stuck into assisting with production of the monthly Student BMJ, and also can attend and write about events within the UK that are of relevance to readers.

Neil Chanchlani, the current student editor, has been patient whilst I get to grips with the simple (I’ve never tweeted or blogged before) to the horrendously complex (trying to follow multiple stories through the pitch/submission/review/revise/peer review/ edit/ copy edit/ publication process of the journal). The Student BMJ is a very slick affair, a far cry from the lovingly home-made medical school newsletter that I currently edit. Before this, I don’t think I honestly knew what a pitch was; a knowledge of the publication process will now help when I come to submit manuscripts in the future. The scholarship is what you make of it, but just being at the office feels like an education in journalism.

Whilst I am missing clinical medicine, there are tons of transferable skills that I will be able to implement when working as a foundation year doctor in August. Production of the Student BMJ relies on good team-work, communication, and responsibility. Professionalism is key when attending events on behalf of the journal. Writing this month’s “Eyespy” (so much fun to read… so much work to write) has meant I have had to go back to basics to understand the statistics behind the humorous research stories. I am still at the cutting edge of medicine, albeit in a different way. I hear about the latest in medical breakthroughs, scandals and developments before they go to press, and I’ve learned more about statins here than in my five years at medical school. I also think that breaking free from the safety of the medical school bubble will do me some good before I start work. Out of the continual hassle of assessment, I’ve finally got more time for myself, and have even been reading a non-medical book (!).

There are inevitably low points (being splashed by a red double-decker bus outside work, Bridget Jones style; being denied access to BMA House after forgetting my security pass; my excitement at attending to report at a conference fading as I slowly realise I’m at the wrong one), but these are still such a novelty that I think of them more as anecdotes to tell to my friends. I’m sure this won’t last, but at the moment it all feels refreshingly new.

So far, so good, and no regrets. Today, the small thrill of seeing “compiled by Henry Murphy” in an edited copy of my work, and I feel like I’ve made it.