Research, SOHTIS team

The Meeting of a Medical Student & NGO

Working with an anti-human trafficking charity in Scotland may seem unlikely choice for a medical elective and yet how insightful and productive it has been for both this University of Dundee student and for SOHTIS. Here Stephanie tells it in her own words … AND there is more to follow as she summarises her research and we begin implementing some of the outcomes together.

For my final year elective of medical school, I was excited to be given the opportunity to work with SOHTIS.  I set 5 key aims:

  • develop an understanding of how third sector organisations work and help to deliver inclusive healthcare
  • explore opportunities to raise awareness of human trafficking at Dundee Medical School.
  • engage in discussions with healthcare professionals (predominantly GP’s) to ascertain what the current protocols are to identify and support victims or survivors of human trafficking
  • enhance my knowledge on non-clinical determinants of health (specifically poverty and deprivation)
  • explore the importance of inclusive healthcare within the UK and identify different parts of society who experience barriers to accessing healthcare.

After liaising with my supervisors, a practical plan of activities, events and self-directed learning were agreed to achieve these tasks including fundraising workshops, attending high yield meetings with the CEO of SOHTIS, interacting with key figures within SOHTIS and organising informal discussions with multiple key figures within the Dundee GP’s and Dundee Medical School education staff.

Looking at the initial workplan, I felt eager yet anxious at the enormity of the goals set given the four-week timeframe which was echoed by my supervisors. The recognition of the ambitious nature of the agreed workplan by my supervisors helped ameliorate my concerns and a weekly check in to evaluate the workplan was agreed to be an effective way of staying the course.

Key activities throughout the elective:

Meetings with SOHTIS CEO
Throughout my time I participated in multiple meetings with the CEO, with different parties such as other NGO’s, local authority action groups, Scottish government anti-trafficking cross party meetings and attending in person fundraising events and training days for new SOHTIS staff. Through these meetings, I began to be able to identify different members of society most at risk at human trafficking in Scotland.  I discovered the cross section between inequalities and the risk of human trafficking, and the lack of direct focus organisations and public services display to the specific risk of individuals in relation to human trafficking rather than general vulnerabilities.

The lack of specific focus of tuition on human trafficking in the medical education and my resulting lack of awareness surprised and frustrated me and made me deeply grateful to participate in these meetings to enhance my own knowledge for my future clinical experiences. This reflection also made me more determined to engage with medical education staff at the university regarding introducing formal teaching of human trafficking into the curriculum.

Self-directed Learning
As part of the elective, I have reviewed the existing published literature on the lack of awareness and understanding of human trafficking signs in healthcare professionals and whether medical schools across the UK specifically teach their students about human trafficking.  Before the elective, I was unaware of how underprepared medical professionals feel to help identify and support their patients who they may think could be at risk. My self-directed learning and review of existing literature highlighted to me the extent of the lack of understanding within the medical profession and medical students on this issue. This new awareness I have developed will help me better support future patients I encounter both as a final year medical student and in my professional career after I graduate.

Raising Awareness within Dundee Medical School
I reached out to key figures within the medical education staff and GP contacts involved in teaching to have discussions to gain insight into:

1) their experience of patients at risk/who have been trafficked
2) knowledge of protocols in reporting suspicions of patients at risk of being trafficked
3) if and where they believed human trafficking could and should be implemented into the curriculum

From discussions with medical education staff, I was able to identify a new key area within the medical curriculum which may be best placed for introduction of formal human trafficking teaching known.  An agreement was established that human trafficking should be part of this element of the curriculum in a twofold approach: an in-person session with a SOHTIS representative and a summary webpage on the medical school online portal should be developed.

Impact of the Elective and Next Steps
The shaping of both the in person sessions and the online webpage will form part of my next steps following the end of my elective and will involve a multidisciplinary approach including myself, SOHTIS and medical educators. I feel like this is the start of an exciting opportunity to make a real difference within the medical curriculum but also the medical community as a whole. By impacting the medical education for future generations of doctors, Dundee University will be better equipping their students and future UK doctors to be better advocates for their patients.

As a committee member of Students for Global Health society within Dundee University, I have been able to liaise with the committee to raise interest in educational and fundraising events focussing on the issue of human trafficking and SOHTIS. This will involve being part of an access to healthcare series of lectures that SFGH will provide to students. Organising this has taught me how to network with different bodies to bring together a common goal; a vital skill which is commonly utilised by third sector organisations (as I have observed during my elective).

To continue to raise awareness of human trafficking as an issue within the wider student community, the CEO and I have collaborated with a graphic design student working with SOHTIS to create an accessible information poster. This helped me identify the salient points of information needed to communicate to the student body and enhanced my ability to succinctly communicate these. This builds upon skills gained in my medical degree of making a poster on the link between healthcare and deprivation.

Stephanie Scullion, Final Year Medical Student, University of Dundee

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