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The training aims to increase confidence in students to intitiate the conversation around suicide.

Exeter Medical students to receive suicide prevention training

A charity whose work aims to prevent suicides among young people will now be able to help students at the University of Exeter Medical School, thanks to new funding by BMA Giving.

Exeter’s first-year Medical students will have the chance to participate in three different types of training. ‘Talking About Suicide’ sessions aim to provide students with the essential tools to initiate a conversation around suicide. In ‘Guided Self-Care Spaces’, students will be encouraged to develop and practise self-compassion and self-reflection, and they can come together and share experiences in ‘Open Mic MENtal Health Nights’.

In 2021/22, the charity Olly’s Future will be offering the Dr SAMS – Suicide Awareness in Medical Students - programme at three Medical Schools in total. At the University of Exeter Medical School and Brighton and Sussex Medical School, the programme is being funded by a new grant of £20,000 from BMA Giving. BMA Giving is a committee of British Medical Association members who meet annually to determine BMA grants to healthcare charities.

Professor Ian Fussell, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Exeter’s College of Medicine and Health, said: “We’re very pleased that we’ll be able to offer the varied Dr SAMS training to our students, and increase awareness for mental health especially after such a challenging year. The wellbeing of our students is crucial to us, and we want them to feel confident to initiate the conversation around suicide. It’s important that they look after themselves, and this will also enable them to take even better care of their patients in the future.” 

Ann Feloy, chair of Olly’s Future said: "We are delighted to receive the BMA Giving grant for the second year running for Dr SAMS. This enables Olly's Future to equip hundreds more medical students with vital skills to talk about suicide to their friends and colleagues, and later on, use this knowledge and understanding in their careers to help patients. With the BMA backing, our powerful and pioneering three-part programme will build on the success of the pilot which was run at BSMS in 2020/21. It gives our small charity, set up in memory of my beloved son Oliver, the credibility and authority we need, to ensure Dr SAMS is run as part of the curriculum going forward.”

Post-training surveys of students who took part in the Dr SAMS programme showed there had been a 40% increase in their confidence in talking about suicide with at-risk peers, supporting them and sign-posting to further help. 98% felt that they could with ease and confidence approach someone who had thoughts of suicide and start a lifesaving conversation. By extending Dr SAMS to the University of Exeter Medical School and Kent and Medway Medical School, funded by Kent County Council, Olly’s Future hopes they will be able to equip over 500 first year medical students with the same suicide prevention knowledge. 

Marina Politis, deputy chair and welfare lead for the BMA medical students committee said: “Supporting the wellbeing of medical students is critical, now during the COVID-19 pandemic more than ever. I hope that the sessions offered by Olly’s Future will allow students to be more empowered to start conversations surrounding suicide and have the tools to support their peers, as well as decreasing the stigma that unfortunately still exists surrounding suicide. This awareness is invaluable, and it is encouraging that these medical schools recognise the value of training like Dr SAMS. I hope that it will be a first step towards increased support and awareness by medical schools and institutions themselves, and a change in culture to address the root causes of medical student suicide.” 

Professor Averil Mansfield CBE, chair of BMA Giving, said: “As evidence continues to show the devastating effects of the pandemic on the medical profession, supporting doctors and medical students is vitally important. The BMA provides help through its own services, like our 24/7 wellbeing helpline. But the Association is also proud to aid other organisations through BMA Giving who align with our mission of looking after doctors so they can look after you. 

“The 2021 BMA Giving grants have been awarded to an excellent list of recipients, like Olly’s Future, whose work using this funding will undoubtedly make a difference to the mental wellbeing of medical students and their future patients.” 

At Brighton and Sussex Medical School, the first part of Dr SAMS – a 90-minute, online suicide prevention training - was delivered to 351 medical students. Professor Juliet Wright, Director of Undergraduate Teacher and Learning, said: “I can say that the students have benefited enormously from the programme and the very real and practical support this gives them is its strength. Students leave with a confidence to take the next steps should they need too, and that is such a very valuable skill to have given them.”


Date: 17 August 2021

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