It is the other students that make the experience special. As a newcomer to the IFMSA meetings (and if the president can be a newcomer then surely anyone can get involved in representing Medsin at these events!) I had been told by many past Medsin attendees that it was the other students I would most enjoy about the meeting. However, it still surprises me how true that statement was.
I am here a few days earlier than the rest of the delegation, with Jonny and Mike, taking part in the Pre-GA, a smaller meeting of around 200 students working in smaller groups on particular topics, before the main meeting begins. Since Dan sadly couldn’t get time off, I am the lone representative of Medsin in the President’s group -in which the presidents from around 20 countries are gathering to do some training, discuss our experiences within our countries, and learn from each other.
And I have been learning a lot. Despite the logistical challenges an African meeting has brought (think carpenters still working on the wall to the room we are supposed to be meeting in, intermittent electricity, and next to no technical support, projectors or internet access!) the presidents have been gathering whenever and wherever possible (e.g. in the hotel foyer, a corridor, the parking lot!) and working long and fruitful days together.
Whilst the training has been excellent, few of the topics are new to me, largely because I’ve been fortunate enough to attend sessions by a number of Medsin trainers. Thus it is the IFMSA officials and other presidents which have been the real resource. I have been learning about them and their teams, different strategies they use to tackle problems common to all National Student Organisations, and the broader social and cultural context that they are working in. Today, a discussion of the role of a flash mob in student advocacy really highlighted to me how no one strategy fits all cultures. Whilst some countries had never heard of a flash mob and eagerly embraced the idea, another suggested that it has been over-utilised with unclear messages in their country, whilst yet another said people who carry out flash mobs are considered extremist, and that it would be damaging to their external image to use this method of raising awareness! These conversations have been a great way of finding out more about the methods other organisations use, and how they adapt them to make the most impact in their country.
Perhaps most importantly, I have been fascinated to learn about other organisations. All the presidents are surprised by the diversity of structures, sizes and missions of the organisations which make up the IFMSA. I admire the way in which different countries have adapted to unique challenges which factors such as geography or medical schools may have thrust upon them. But learning about others also helps me to appreciate how special our students are. Medsin stands apart in how many annual gatherings we hold with a high proportion of the network present (showing the dedication of our members), in how much we achieve on such a small budget, and in the way that our vision and mission (our goal and how we hope to achieve it) focus primarily on a better and healthier world, rather than advancing our members. I am proud to be here representing such passionate students, who achieve so much on enthusiasm and good-will alone, and who are driven not by their own self-interests, but by a dream of something better.
Felicity is joint National Coordinator of Medsin-UK (along with Dan) and is also a 4th year medical student at King’s College London.