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Anais is a second-year medical student; she was one of the Project Leaders for the UCL Next Top Doctor Student-Led Project. This project aims to inspire and provide practical knowledge to Year 10 and Year 12 students pertaining to careers in healthcare. This year they worked in partnership with several schools, including Brampton Manor Academy in East Ham. 

Tell us a little bit about your project. 

I was one of four Project Leaders for UCL Next Top Doctor, which is essentially a volunteer outreach scheme where volunteers, who are all medical students, run weekly teaching sessions in state schools. Over the course of 4 sessions, volunteers talked to students about what a career in medicine and other healthcare professions is like, medical ethics, and their own experiences of going through the whole application process. 

The aim of these sessions was to inspire students who face barriers in accessing the same opportunities and support as their peers to pursue a career in healthcare.

Tell us about your Project Leader role.

As the volunteer liaison, I was in charge of communication with the volunteers and leading training sessions. I provided guidance on running sessions effectively and how to keep students engaged by encouraging the use of interactive platforms, such as Kahoot, to increase participation. I was also responsible for reviewing the slides and volunteer and student handbooks, making them clearer and updating content. Also, I actively collected feedback from both volunteers and students through questionnaires, making sure the programme was improved regularly.  

Outside of my primary role as volunteer liaison, I also worked on admin tasks with the other Project Leaders, like completing risk assessments and ensuring all volunteers had completed their DBS checks. I closely collaborated with my colleague who was responsible for communicating with the schools in order to create a timetable for the sessions that aligned with the schedules of both the volunteers and the schools.

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

In my first year, I volunteered for UCL Next Top Doctor, and I think I gained a lot from it. I really enjoyed teaching, it’s something I would want to potentially pursue in the future, and I really liked what the initiative was pushing, which was to make healthcare career paths more accessible to students that don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else.

I knew I wanted to get involved again in my second year and I also had a lot of ideas of things that could be improved or ways the scheme could be expanded. So, when the vacancy opened it was an easy choice for me to apply because it's something that I was quite passionate about and wanted to play a bigger role in.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project? 

I can't take all the credit, but together with the other Project Leaders, we've added more detail to the slides and revamped them so that they're more relevant to current university requirements. We also added a few more resources that we ourselves found helpful when going through the application process. 

Also, something we worked on quite heavily this year was creating more of a community feel between volunteers. In my first year I felt quite segregated from everyone else who was involved in the project, apart from my partner. To address this, we organised socials, like a pizza night, where volunteers got to interact with each other, build connections and share ideas. I think speaking with people one-on-one and in person gives you a better feel of what needs to be changed or improved, as it’s those kinds of conversations that are more meaningful than just emailing volunteers and giving them instructions. The feedback we've already received from volunteers has confirmed that. We also gave them all t-shirts with our logo to foster a sense of unity between volunteers, which they wore to all their teaching sessions. 

What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you? 

I've had the opportunity to develop a lot of skills which I'm grateful for.

Working with the other project leaders has definitely improved my communication and team working skills, as the many admin tasks meant we had to collaborate effectively to meet all the deadlines. 

We did have a few challenges along the way, particularly with the school strikes, where we had to make some last-minute changes, which was a bit stressful to manage because it was always very sudden and there was a lot of preparation involved in running the sessions. So this meant a lot of last-minute rescheduling and editing slides to combine sessions when this wasn’t possible. However, dealing with this situation has taught me a lot about adaptability and problem solving, I’ve learned to manage stress and manage a group of people all under pressure.

This is maybe related to what you just mentioned, but what would you say was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

Yes, I would actually say the strikes were probably the biggest challenge. Since we knew the strikes were going on, we proactively contacted schools to try and see if they were involved and therefore whether we could reschedule the sessions. But because a lot of the schools didn't always know whether teachers were participating well in advance, it became quite difficult to communicate with volunteers. All we could do was promise to keep them informed, and at the same time email the schools continuously for updates. 

Balancing that was challenging, particularly when volunteers would get frustrated as they wanted to plan their week in advance, they wanted to know if they needed to travel and prepare for the session or not, or if they needed to find another time that they were free. 

In terms of how we managed it and kind of worked around that, like I mentioned earlier, we tried to contact schools as early as possible. We also made it a priority to regularly update volunteers, even if there were no substantial updates to share, to make sure they were in the loop so that they knew we hadn’t forgotten about them and were actively addressing the issue. 

How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader? 

I would say I've connected the most with the other Project Leaders that I worked with, I've gotten quite close with them and it’s a relationship that I hope to continue next year even after we're not Project Leaders anymore.

Also, because a lot of our volunteers were in the year below, it was quite nice to interact with them. I find that often it’s difficult to expand your circle of friends to different year groups, and this was one way that it was quite easy for me to get to know people from different years. 

Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader? 

Something that comes to mind was actually this week when I had the opportunity to run one of the sessions. As I said before a lot of the time my job involved admin, and training students, but I wasn't as involved this year in running the teaching sessions. 

However, seeing how much the students valued the input and advice we were giving them was truly rewarding. 

Especially since this experience marked my final task as Project Leader; it was nice to remind myself of the difference I was trying to make.

Lovely! You’ve come full circle with this project. For our last question, what is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader? 

Establishing a timeline for the year early on is essential, particularly if there's a lot of admin you have to do. In my case, because the project involves young people, all volunteers had to get their DBS check verified, and that takes time to process so we started recruiting students a term before any sessions began to give time for this. We also worked on the admin we could over the summer, such as completing risk assessments and editing the slides, to reduce the workload over the term when we knew other commitments were more likely to get in the way, which I think really helped us and gave us a head start.

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