Law & Medicine Student Voices: How to balance university, work and life

We asked a few female law and medicine students to recount their internship stories. Their experiences highlight how difficult it can be for women to combine educational life, work life and home life.

• Clare Knox decided to volunteer at a women’s shelter when she was working toward her doctorate in law at Oxford. Now she’s interning for the woman who helped her get started with her studies.

“A female work colleague and I formed a human rights project last year and it involved working with the Home Foundation in Birmingham to provide housing and support to homeless women and their children.

“We want to make sure the women have somewhere safe to live in order to give them an opportunity to get their lives back together, so this work has impacted me a lot. The amount of management training I have had from the Home Foundation and from previous female partners has been phenomenal. Although I am now a sole agent through the charity, there was a period of time where I was having to try and piece together a structure to get me all the courses I needed.

“As soon as I heard about the role, I made it clear that I wanted to apply and went about it exactly the same way I would on any other job application process. I have been working there since November 2017 and have had the privilege of helping to develop the skill set of many professionals in the sector.

“We are very lucky to have many outstanding professionals working at the foundation, including a talented team leader with lots of years of relevant experience. It has been a privilege to work alongside her to develop my skillset so that I can be a useful member of the team. She has helped to make sure I can be a good professional and a good mentor.”

• Sam Greenhill is the health regulatory practice director at RPC: RIECA — part of the Resolution network — where she researches the maternity and children health issues. In 2016, she was offered a place at a women’s living residence in Cambridge but had to take a pay cut to do so because of the amount of hours she would have to work there. Her earlier plan was to intern for the maternity care ombudsman.

“It was not the big place I hoped to go.

“I was anxious about going to the receiving, rather than actually being there (I was to be in the maternity unit when it happened).

“It was the most troubling placement I have ever been asked to do. I felt a strong responsibility to give it my best, having years of experience in my sector and the knowledge to at least understand what was involved.

“I thought that if I gave my maximum, and went above and beyond, I would be proud and happy.

“I went and brought with me as much information as I could to share with the residents, who seemed very thankful for my work and guidance. It is important to not be put off by doing the work that is needed to help people when you are there.

“It is for that reason, that when I now volunteer at home, I want to do what I can, to make sure the people there are supported.”

• Kumi Kwabena-Paul, a first-year medical student at London College of General Practice, found internships hard at first — even taking that train, she worried about managing family life.

“I found life in an internship hard, as I couldn’t leave work during the holidays, and had little control over which practices offered them. When my partner returned from overseas for the first time in three years, we could not find any rotations close to home.

“My friend was applying for a graduate bursary because her internship was not flexible for her family. She never even got an interview.

“To be fair, most of my colleagues were female and I respect that. They juggled commitments with other roles in their lives, finding jobs in specialist fields and doing jobs outside the building or clinic that were equally important.

“But, those were predominantly men: The only experiences I had in applying for internships as a woman were of being discouraged from applying at all. I remember coming home from interviews being very nervous and ashamed because of the tokenistic and misogynistic response they gave.

“I am now one of the few women in my regional medical school, but I’ve noticed that even in our internal company that makes decisions about careers, women are ignored. I’m pleased my college is striving to be more diverse so that our fellows, students and med students will have more than the limited experience that we’ve had thus far.”

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