11 February 2020
Soon-to-be medical student David, 18, blogs about being invited to take part in the NIHR ARC West research oversight group on Healthier Childhoods – one of four themed groups that set priorities for applied health research locally and nationally.
I’ve just finished my A levels and am heading off to university in September to study medicine. I’ve been a part of the Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG) for more than five years now and recently was asked to participate in a research oversight group meeting for the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) on the theme of Healthier Childhoods.
The opportunity, although extremely daunting, was one I couldn’t refuse. My main interest throughout school has been around medical research, and finally I would be able to see it from a different perspective.
When I began to read through the documents, immediately I felt out of my depth. It was like I had been bombarded with acronym after acronym that I had to keep flipping backwards and forwards to find meaning for, and I became increasingly uneasy about what I had signed up for.
I arranged to meet with Mike – who runs our YPAG group – to go over some of the papers, and discuss ideas I could potentially contribute, before the meeting started. This put my mind at ease going into the meeting, so, armed with my acronym-decoding jargon buster and my mind firmly set on the free lunch, it was time to head in.
I was struck with how welcoming everyone was, with smiles pointing my direction wherever I looked and handshake introductions coming left, right and centre. Despite feeling under-qualified, I felt confident that these people wanted to hear what I had to say.
Following an introduction to the Healthier Childhoods theme, contributions began from different groups of people about what the priorities should be in helping children have a better upbringing and transition to adulthood. The groups consisted of researchers, representatives from health providers covering Bristol, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, and YPAG through a short video and my talking points.
My suggestions for what’s currently affecting young people seemed to differ somewhat from those of others around the room.
This didn’t turn out to be a bad thing though.
In fact, my suggestions were welcomed and thoroughly discussed, with multiple people helping me to link my ideas into other common themes that had come up earlier in the meeting. This was a massive relief because it made me feel like I’d given a ‘correct’ answer (if there is such a thing) rather than suggest something obvious or irrelevant. My points were then brought up again at the end of the meeting and discussed further, highlighting key parts that I was worried would have been disregarded completely.
So, a few hours on and two delicious deli sandwiches down (the free lunch was a strong point, I must say), I left the meeting feeling like I’d made relevant contributions in a highly professional environment, and learned new things about how the world of medical research works behind closed doors that I didn’t think I’d get to see at such a young age.
I would have never thought that joining the Young Person’s Advisory Group at 11 would lead me to experiences like this, which are now so relevant to the degree I am about to study.
If you’d like to find out more about the Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG), contact Mike Bell on firstname.lastname@example.org. You need to between 10 and 18 years old. No experience is needed (except experience of being a young person), you get paid and it’s a great opportunity to make new friends and influence research.