The book of the week this week has been Chris Patten’s “Not quite the diplomat” – part autobiography, half recent history and a third political philosophy text. It is a fascinating insight into the international community of the last 3 decades. The book has really challenged some of my political beliefs – which I thought were pretty unshakeable – and one above all others, the EU. I read this book to help me decide who I should vote for in the upcoming MEP elections.
I have to make a confession, my political views are on the right of the centre and I have always been quite a strong “Eurosceptic”. Although recently, I have found myself drifting further and further into the camp of “we must pull out of Europe at all costs” but Mr Patten’s arguments and insights have definitely made me question this stance.
With the European Parliamentary elections coming up, I thought it might be an interesting time to put some ideas out there for discussion.
From a young age, I have always been of the opinion that Great Britain is a world leading country, a still great power, one of the best countries in the world - democratic, tolerant, fair, sensible - and that we don’t need anyone else’s “help” or interference in how our country is run. I believe that British voters should have a democratic input on the rules that govern them.
To borrow an American phrase “No taxation without representation!”
I believe that democracy is not perfect but that it is the best system of government that humans have been able to develop. For all of its faults, voters normally swing back to the centre ground eventually and any silly policies can be undone. This system has inherently more checks and balances than any meritocracy, oligarchy or bureaucracy (taking it literally to mean being ruled by unelected officials).
This is one of my major objections to how the European Union currently works. For all intents and purposes, it is not democratic. Institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors, and the European Parliament. Only one of these institutions is elected by the European demos (the parliament) and that institution doesn’t really make any changes to any policies – “the rubber stamp brigade”. The European Council is made up of the President of the European Council (Unelected), President of the European commission (Unelected) and the heads of the member states (elected) and is where quite a lot of the "major" policies come from but not all of the read tape (the European Commission and Parliament).
I am happy to be proved wrong but it just seems that the EU, as a whole, is made up of unelected officials who increasing try to make rules that apply to all 28 member states without any consent from the voters in those states – it looks like the rule of “b-euro-crats” (bureaucrats – this version has far too many vowels for a dyslexic person to use).
A beurocratic rule which many of us do not agree with but seemingly have to succumb to, a good example for medics is the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) which means that junior doctors only get paid for working 48h a week when they may spend many, many more hours in work. The EWTD has also made training a lot more difficult for many junior doctors and has many implications for how the health service is now run. Is it right that this law was imposed on us without our consent? If we imposed a treatment on a patient without their consent then we would be in very big trouble indeed!
I cannot deny that the EU has done some good in the world and I cannot deny that Britain has benefited from being a member. I just wish that we could pay to have access to the markets, while retaining control over the laws in our lands. I want us to be in Europe, as a partner but not as a vassal. In short, I would like us to stay within the EU but with major reforms.
I know that any reforms I suggest will not be read by anyone in power and I know they are probably unrealistic but I thought I would put it out there just to see what people think.
I would like to see a NICE’er European Union.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB), part of the UK Department of Health but a separate organisation (http://www.nice.org.uk/aboutnice/whoweare/who_we_are.jsp). NICE’s role is to advise the UK health service and social services. It does this by assessing the available evidence for treatments/ therapies/ policies etc and then by producing guidelines outlining the evidence and the suggested best course of action.
None of these guidelines are enforced by law, for example, as a doctor you do not have to follow the NICE recommendations but if you ignore them and your patient suffers as a consequence then you are likely to be in big trouble with the General Medical Council.
So, here would be my recommendations for EU reform:
First, we all pay pretty much the same as we do now for access to the European market. We continue with free movement and we keep the European Council but elect the President. This way all the member states can meet up and decide if they want to share any major policies. We all benefit from free movement and we all benefit from a larger free trade area.
Second, we get rid of most of the rest of the EU institutions and replace them with an institute a bit like NICE. The European Institute for Policy Excellence (EIPE) would be (hopefully) quite a small department that looks at the best available evidence and then produces guidance on the policy.
A shorter executive summary would hopefully also be available for everyday people to read and understand what the policy is about - just like how patients can read NICE executive summaries to understand their condition better.
Then any member state could choose to adopt the policy if their parliaments think it worthwhile. This voluntary opt-in system would mean that states retain control of their laws, would probably adopt the policies voluntarily (eventually) and that the European citizens might actually grow to like the EU laws if they can be shown to be evidence based, in the public’s best interests, in the control of the public and not just a law/red tape imposed from above.
The European Union should be a place where our elected officials go to debate and agree policies in the best interests of their electorates. There should therefore be an opt-out of any policy for any member state that does not think it will benefit from a policy.
This looser union that I would like to see will probably not happen and I do worry that one day we will wake up in the undemocratic united federal states of Europe but this worry should not force us to make an irrational choice now. We should not be voting to "leave the EU at all costs" but we should be voting for reform and a better more co-operative international community.
I would not dare suggest who any of you should vote for but I hope you use your vote for change and reform and not more of the same.
Hello and welcome!
I am finally back to blogging after having a brief hiatus in order to take my final exams. Whilst the trauma is still fresh in my mind, I would like to share with you the top 5 social media tips that helped me through the dark days of undergraduate medicine. Some of you may have already read my old essay on 'How Medical Students should interact with Social Media Networking Sites' and this document deals with some of the problems with professionalism surrounding the use of social media. This blog will not cover such issues, but will instead focus on how you can use social media to benefit your learning/ revision processes.
Top Tip 1: YouTube
For those of you who are unaware, YouTube is a video-sharing website. Sometimes the site is overlooked as a 'social media' resource but if you consider the simple definition of Social Networking Sites as 'those with user led content,' you can quickly see how YouTube definitely falls into the social media category.
It wasn't until I got to University that I realised the potency of YouTube as an educational tool. It has a use at every stage of medical education and it is FREE. If you are still in your pre-clinical training then there are a wealth of videos that depict cellular processes and 3D anatomy - very useful content for the visual learner.
For the clinical student, there are a number of OSCE demonstration videos that may be useful in honing your examination skills. There are also a number of presentations on clinical topics that have been uploaded, however, YouTube has no quality control measures for these videos (to my knowledge) so it may be best to subscribe to a more official source if you like to use podcasts/ uploaded presentations for your revision.
Another reason YouTube comes in as my number 1 top tip is because I find it difficult to procrastinate whilst using the site. Sure, you can start looking up music and videos that have nothing to do with medicine but personally I find that having a little bit of music on in the background helps me work for longer periods, which is a definite bonus during the revision period.
On the other hand, there are many that find YouTube difficult to harness due to the draw of funny videos and favourite Vloggers (Video Bloggers) that can distract the unwary from revision for hours on end. At the end of the day, YouTube was created for funny videos (predominantly of cats it seems) and not for medical education, and this should be kept in mind if you choose to use it as a tool for your learning.
Top Tip 2: Facebook
Yes, the dreaded Facebook comes in at number two for me. Facebook is by far and away my largest source of procrastination when it comes to writing / working / revising or learning. It is a true devil in disguise, however, there are some very useful features for those who like to work in groups during their revision...
For example, during the last six months I have organised a small revision group through Facebook. We set up a 'private page' and each week I would post what topics would be covered in the weeks session. Due to the nature of Facebook, people were obviously able to reply to my posts with suggestions for future topics etc. We were also able to upload photos of useful resources that one or more of us had seen in a tutorial in which the other students hadn't been able to attend. And most importantly, we were able to upload revision notes for each other via the Facebook 'files' tab. This last feature was invaluable for sharing basic notes between a few close colleagues. However, for proper file sharing I strongly recommend the file sharing service 'Dropbox,' which provides free storage for your documents and the ability to access files from any computer or device with internet.
Coming back to Facebook, my final thoughts are: if you don't like group work or seeing what your colleagues are doing via their statuses or private messages then it probably isn't a useful resource for you. If you have the motivation (unlike myself) to freeze your Facebook account I can imagine you would end up procrastinating far less (or you'll start procrastinating on something else entirely!).
Top Tip 3: Twitter
Twitter is a microblogging site. This means that users upload microblogs or 'Tweets' containing useful information they have found on the internet or read in other people's tweets.
Twitter's utility as an educational resource is directly related to the 'type' of people you follow. For example, I use Twitter primarily to connect with other people interested in social media, art & medicine and medical education. This means my home screen on twitter is full of people posting about these topics, which I find useful. Alternatively, I could have used my Twitter account to 'follow' all the same friends I 'follow' on Facebook. This would have meant my Twitter home page would have felt like a fast-paced, less detailed version of my Facebook feed just with more hashtags and acronyms - not very useful for finding educational resources. With this in mind, consider setting up two twitter accounts to tease apart the useful tweets about the latest clinical podcast from the useless tweets about what your second cousin once removed just had for lunch.
A friend suggested to me that if you really get into twitter it is also possible to use one account and 'group' your followers so that you can see different 'types' of tweets at different times. This seems like a good way to filter the information you are reading, as long as you can figure out how to set up the filters in the first place.
Like all Social Media Sites, Twitter gets its fair share of bad press re. online professionalism and its tendency to lure users into hours of procrastination. So again, use with caution.
Top Tip 4: Meducation
It would not be right to write this blog and not include Meducation in the line-up. Meducation is the first website that I have personally come across where users (students, doctors etc) upload and share information (i.e. the very soul of what social networking is about) that is principally about medicine and nothing else. I'm sure there may be other similar sites out there, but the execution of this site is marvellous and that is what has set it apart from its competitors and lead to its rapid growth (especially over the last two years, whilst i've been aware of the site).
When I say 'execution,' I mean the user interface (which is clean and simple), the free resources (giving a taste of the quality of material) and the premium resources (which lecture on a variety of interesting clinical topics rather than sticking to the bread and butter topics 24/7).
One of my favourite features of Meducation is the ability to ask 'Questions' to other users. These questions are usually asked by people wishing to improve niche knowledge and so being able to answer a question always feels like a great achievement. Both the questions and answers are mostly always interesting, however the odd question does slip through the net where it appears the person asking the question might have skipped the 'quick google search' phase of working through a tough topic.
Meducation harnesses social networking in an environment almost free from professionalism and procrastination issues. Therefore, I cannot critique the site from this angle. Instead, I have decided to highlight the 'Exam Room' feature of the website. The 'Exam Room' lets the user take a 'mock exam' using what I can only assume is a database of questions crafted by the Meducation team themselves (+/- submissions from their user base). However, it is in my opinion that this feature is not up to scratch with the level and volume of questions provided by the competitors in this niche market. I feel wrong making this criticism whilst blogging on Meducation and therefore I will not list or link the competitors I am thinking of here, but they will be available via my unaffiliated blog (Occipital Designs). I hope the Meducation team realise that I make this observation because I feel that with a little work their question database could be improved to the point where it is even better than other sites AND there would also be all the other resources Meducation has to offer. This would make Meducation a truly phenomenal resource.
Top Tip 5: Blogging
Blogging itself is very useful. Perhaps not necessarily for the learning / revision process but for honing the reflective process. Reflective writing is a large component of undergrad medical education and is disliked by many students for a number of reasons, not least of which is because many find some difficulty in putting their thoughts and feelings on to paper and would much prefer to write with the stiffness and stasis of academic prose.
Blogging is great practice for breaking away from essay-writing mode and if you write about something you enjoy you will quickly find you are easily incorporating your own personal thoughts and feelings into your writing (as I have done throughout this blog). This is a very organic form of reflection and I believe it can greatly improve your writing when you come to write those inevitable reflective reports.
Thanks for reading this blog. I hope I have at least highlighted some yet unharnessed aspects of the sites and resources people already commonly use. Please stay tuned in the next week or two for more on social media in medicine. I am working together with a colleague to produce 'Guidelines for Social Media in Medicine,' in light of the recent material on the subject by the General Medical Council.
Please feel free to comment below if you feel you have a Top Tip that I haven't included!
As always, any views expressed here are mine alone and are not representative of any organisation.
A Worthy Cause...
Also, on a separate note: check out Anatomy For Life - a charity medical art auction raising money for organ donation.