Thursday, 14 March 2013

Class of 2002

Editor's note: On Thursday 14th March 2013, Newcastle University are hosting a celebration in honour of the 25th anniversary of their MSc in Public Health & Health Services Research. This post was prompted by requests for reflections from past and present staff and students on their MSc experiences. 

Posted by Linda Penn

My class all started the MSc course in 2002 and graduated at different times, so for me it was the class of 2002. The first day I was terrified, these were all ‘Health’ people and I was not. Also it was more years than I care to admit since I had taken any exam. Professor Nigel took the first session and it couldn’t have been a better start. His kind professionalism included all the stock in trade responses for encouragement: “Good point” (staggeringly obvious to anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes in research, but not entirely stupid for a greenhorn), “That’s interesting” (you have probably missed the point, but I will explain it more clearly and it is better if you do ask because other people will have missed the point as well).

After the first day Cath organised the coffee club and it all became rather more comfortable. Then there was Health Economics. I quite enjoyed this subject, but it was allocated to the post lunch ‘graveyard’ slot and a few students were inclined to sigh. One student decided to liven it up, but that is their story. I was shocked.

My anecdote is around prescribing antibiotics (or rather not prescribing if unwarranted). Lecturer X developed a long and complicated story about a mother demanding of a GP that he would prescribe antibiotics for her child who had a cold and a sore throat. This went on and on and eventually (in the story) this poor inexperienced GP gave in and signed the perhaps not entirely appropriate, although probably not life-threatening, prescription for antibiotics. Lecturer X pressed us about what we would do at the end of surgery (if we were this poor, unfortunate, misguided, bedraggled GP). Several people suggested various options, “Yes and?” said Lecturer X, quite a few times. Now I had come from a practitioner land where beautiful theory and immaculate plans regularly crashed on the rocks of circumstance and reality and where a good practitioner would have a sleeve full of contingency rafts, but would not take on board too many ‘perhaps ifs’. In naivety I decided that the story Lecturer X was pressing must be a message about conflicts between ideal and real along the lines of “if you don’t look after your-self you can’t look after other people.” So I suggested that this poor GP should go home and have their tea.

Southwesterly Gale, St. Ives; Frederick Judd Waugh
I was wrong. Lecturer X put their hands over their head and curled up on the floor to emphasise how wrong. I kid you not. (The ‘right’ answer was look up the Cochrane review for guidance. The message was about learning from mistakes). If the floor had opened up just then my red face and I could have happily slotted through.

However, what was really nice was that afterwards quite a few of my student buddies took the trouble to come up to me and say, “You were right” or, “You had a point”. So I remember acceptance, not embarrassment. I don’t expect anyone else will remember at all. Usually I limit reminiscence, but a reunion is the perfect excuse for a reminiscence fest

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