Anca is a 3rd year medical student intercalating in Neuroscience. She was able to get involved in research as early as her first year and wanted to enable others to have the same enriching experience. She is on the committee of Acamedics, a Student-Led Volunteering Project that connects medical students to clinicians who conduct research. By helping students gain research experience in their early years, Acamedics is hoping to inspire people to go into medical research and evidence-based medicine. They connect consultants from various specialities with interested students thereby allowing them to widen their portfolio and potentially publish research, furthering their career.

Tell us a little about your volunteering.

I've been volunteering with Acamedics which is a Student-Led Volunteering Project encouraging medical students to get involved in research with consultants from various specialties. We basically find projects from external supervisors and then based on the students’ interests and their performance in the interviews we link them up with the consultants in their respective areas of interest.

How did you find out about the role?

It was on Facebook and Instagram pages as well as the Medical Society and Surgical Society newsletters. They were advertising committee positions, so I thought why not get involved and help – I became the Neurosurgery and Radiology project coordinator, which meant that I had to liaise with consultant neurosurgeons and radiologists to find projects for students.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I think it has to do with my quite deep interest in research, which I developed early on in my studies. In year one I was lucky enough to be selected as the youngest member in one of the consultants at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Lab. I was very junior at that stage, so I needed a lot of guidance from everyone in the lab, but I managed to conduct and publish a systematic review at the end of my year with the team. I was very happy, but also interested in what was so special about me that enabled me to do that, considering that I was so young. So, I started to have such conversations and ended up being featured in RUMS Review (Neuroscience issue), which is a magazine for medics. I shared my story of how I got involved in neurosurgery research so early on, and this feature led me to write and co-author another article in the Medical Teacher Journal on 12 tips on how to successfully get involved in research as a medical student.

So then, the main reason why I wanted to get involved with Acamedics was to rather than just writing about it, actually do something to help other students get involved in research.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

I think we helped a lot of students to actually get involved in research and have others also experience what I have experienced. I know that for me, being involved in research as a medical student was important for career progression, and so I hope I have enabled others to progress their careers too. As I said, helping others to gain experience is kind of what fuelled my desire to get involved, and I think that through Acamedics we can inspire a lot of people.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

I think it has been definitely useful in terms of skills I acquired. Recruiting projects from consultants, especially being interested in neurosurgery has given me great contacts, as well as email writing, for example, is a useful skill I mastered. Also, I was interviewing candidates was a great experience, as I got to see how it feels on the other side of the table. I see now what skills are needed to be able to do that, and what you need to look out for in a successful candidate. Moreover, I think volunteering changed my perspective quite a lot in terms of giving to others without expecting anything in return. It was very rewarding, being able to support others to achieve their dreams, just like I did before.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

I would say it is this idea of offering people the opportunity to experience something you've experienced without expecting anything in return. Just giving it to people. I think that is what attracted me to being involved in this program.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

The most challenging aspect of it was the interview day because we had to interview around 20 students. Because of logistics, we decided to do it in just one day, so we spent a whole Saturday from the morning until late afternoon just interviewing people, which was very rewarding in a sense, because you get to know a lot of people, but at the same time is quite draining. So, I kind of mentally prepared for this in the days beforehand, and therefore I knew what I was expecting.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering.

I would say the interviewing, while it was challenging, it was also a great day. It was fantastic to meet all these people and learn about their motivation for pursuing a project. I think that the beauty of life comes from this idea of the uniqueness of the individuals that we meet throughout. Even though the interviews were following quite a strict format, I still managed to feel the passion candidates expressed.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

Yeah, absolutely. I would recommend it and because it gives you this reward at the end of being able to say that you have helped someone. I'm very happy to be able to allow more students to get involved in something I've been lucky enough to be involved in too.

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!