We’re delighted to announce that two of our 2022 MB ChB graduates have been awarded Outstanding Student Contribution Awards from the University of Warwick.
Gabriela Barzyk has been recognised for her efforts around widening participation, while Charlotte Simms has been awarded for her work around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The new graduates were presented with their awards during their degree congregation on 21 July. We caught up with Gabriela to find out more about her work, what she hopes to achieve moving forwards and how she's feeling about starting work as a doctor. You can find out more about Charlotte's work here.
Congratulations, Gabriela! How does it feel to have been recognised?
I’m still in disbelief! The fact that someone went to the effort of nominating me and knowing that the work I’ve been doing at Warwick and externally has had an impact is such a nice feeling.
Tell us about your work
I’ve been doing quite a lot of work around widening participation. Around the start of the pandemic, in August 2020, a colleague from Imperial and I exchanged a few messages about setting up mentoring for some local sixth form students. I offered him help to set up the initiative and since that exchange, with many meetings and policies later, we have set up what is now called In2MedSchool, a national widening participation initiative aiming to support students from underprivileged backgrounds wanting to study medicine.
When I first joined, the project was an idea in its early stages with around 180 interested individuals around the country. By the end of September 2020, we had officially become In2MedSchool with over 1,500 volunteer sign ups nationally, and in February this year we became a charity operating in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The initiative does not incur any costs to the mentees. One of our main services is virtual mentoring. We match mentors with a student from the local area and they meet at least once per half term. This is a great opportunity for the students to find out more about medicine, what it’s like being a medical student and working in healthcare, as well as getting general advice around personal statements and applying to university.
In addition we run fortnightly webinars and events to support with specific aspects of applications, such as interview skills.
Currently we have over 2,000 mentors nationally and over 1,000 mentees (including 80 active mentor/ mentee pairings at Warwick). The initiative has been running for two years now and it’s grown incredibly quickly! All our work is possible because of the fantastic team of directors, officers, regional heads, mentors and other volunteers supporting us.
As well as my work with In2MedSchool, I’ve been involved in running the first widening participation summer school at Warwick last year and run some local widening participation events such as mock interviews. I am also a National Taskforce Member with Widening Participation Medics Network, which endeavours to create a united voice for aspiring medical students, current medical students and doctors from WP backgrounds.
Outside of WP, I have been involved in mentoring adult learners and those with special educational needs, and undergraduate students wanting to be involved in research. I have had the pleasure of presenting my own research at various conferences and have published some of my work as a first author. I am also involved with other organisations such as Healthcare Leadership Academy, British Oncology Network for Undergraduate Societies, and Royal Society of Medicine, holding various roles of responsibility and these experiences have given me lots to reflect on.
How have you managed to fit in this work alongside your studies?
There have been a lot of late nights! It hasn’t been easy at times, but this is something I’m really passionate about as I’m from a widening participation background myself and I know how much of a difference these initiatives can make. So the time I spend on this work flies by.
What do you like most about this work?
Hearing feedback from the sixth form students about how our work has helped them is just incredible. We’re now starting to get to the stage where our mentees are getting university offers for medicine, including one student who has been homeless over the last two years and has received an offer to study medicine at Oxbridge! Stories like that really stick with you and push you to keep going.
How have you found being a medical student?
I’ve enjoyed it! I studied Biomedicine before coming to Warwick, and the idea of going into medicine has always been at the back of my mind. I think that makes a difference to how you study – on the days you’re tired you still have that internal drive because you know that this is what you want to do.
There were hard days, especially with the pandemic, but it’s such a privilege to be a medical student and to be going into medicine – all the conversations we’ve had with patients and the trust they’ve put in us has been amazing. It’s such a fantastic degree to have. Being a medical student has given me lots of opportunities. I feel very lucky and privileged to have made it here and now really want to help others achieve the same.
What advice do you have for our new medical students starting with us in the autumn?
Put yourself out there! Don’t be afraid to take on new things and don’t let imposter syndrome talk you out of things. Med school will fly by – take it a day at a time, push on and believe in yourself.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to be continuing with my widening participation work. I’ve become a trustee for In2MedSchool since we became a charity. I want to focus on sustainability and creating more opportunities for students - we’re hoping to implement work experience, accelerator programmes and will be working with schools that tend to do better getting students into medical school and learning from them, as well as other organisations.
In terms of my work as a doctor, I’ll be starting my foundation programme in south west London, in acute medicine. Looking ahead I’m keeping an open mind about what I’d like to specialise in – I’ve considered GP, oncology and acute medicine, but am looking forward to seeing where my rotations take me. I’m really excited to start work, meet the team and learn more on the job!