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By Thomas White

Charity work as a medical student

4 min
Thomas White sitting in boat on the water

Studying medicine is intensive, which is why it’s a good idea to focus on other activities that help you excel in your profession and improve your overall wellbeing.

This is especially true when you choose an activity that is rewarding, aligns with your values and skills, and gives back to the community at large.

In this blog, Thomas White, President of the Students Working Overseas Trust (SWOT) and fourth-year medical student at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), talks us through who SWOT are, why the charity exists and why the work they do is so important.

Students Working Overseas Trust (SWOT)

SWOT is a medical student society and charity that was started almost 40 years ago. It’s aim is to raise funds to equip fourth-year medical students with supplies they can use when taking electives in low and middle-income countries.

SWOT is a unique charity, as it’s run entirely by medical students. There is a committee of fourth-year medical students who are responsible for core decision-making each academic year, as well as first, second and third-year SWOT representatives within each year group.

This means that our outgoing costs are next to zero, thanks to our brilliant volunteers. Every penny earned from SWOT fundraising efforts goes directly to the point of need, without interference.

Along with all of the money raised, there is a significant amount of in-kind labour donated by our fourth-year colleagues who put their good medical skills to use in host hospitals and healthcare centres as part of their electives.

How do we raise money?

SWOT raises money by hosting a range of fundraising events, such as:

  • The annual SWOT fashion show – one of the biggest student-led events in the UK and Ireland
  • University socials, such as the annual SWOT toga party
  • Sporting events such as charity football matches, CrossFit days and marathon relays
  • Pop-up blood pressure clinics in shopping centres across Northern Ireland
  • Christmas carolling services and Christmas market collections
  • The annual ‘Halfway Ball’ for our third-year colleagues

How is the money used?

All of the money raised by SWOT is used to enable our fourth-year medical students to provide the best service they can to their host hospital and its patients.

SWOT doesn’t pay for students to go on their electives. We simply ask people to provide a ‘shopping list’ of equipment needed by their host institution, which ensures our money is spent on necessary supplies.

Examples include antibiotics, insulin, bandages, sutures, PPE and other equipment that is of most use to each hospital or healthcare centre.

Charity work in trying times

The 2022/23 academic year is the first since 2018/19 that we’ve been able to operate without the threat of COVID-19 derailing our plans. That isn’t an insignificant number of years where we haven’t been able to operate as we normally would.

In that time, there has been almost a whole crop of medical students that have passed through QUB without hearing of SWOT or what we do.

This is because up until recently, foreign electives and big fundraising events in the name of charity weren’t allowed to happen. On top of this, we’re now in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

This year, we’ve been put to task with rebuilding SWOT and the legacy that this great society has developed over the last four decades.

Our efforts began in August 2022, with a small number of us organising all of the fundraising activities we haven’t been able to do in recent years. We got out into the public and started reminding anyone who would listen about our cause.

Initially there was little interest, but we kept trying. We talked to more and more people, and gradually our message began to be understood. People took interest when they saw us in shopping centres wearing scrubs at the weekend, and enjoyed taking a minute to talk to us about our experiences of placement and why we were trying to raise money.

We even managed to spark attention amongst QUB medical alumni who are working as doctors here in Northern Ireland. They’ve been a great asset when it comes to telling younger medical students how they can get involved with SWOT. All of this has helped us gain momentum for our cause.

The future

This summer will be the first that SWOT is able to function as it was intended. We’re looking forward to what we can provide our fourth-year medical students with, and seeing just how far our hard-raised money can go.

Thank you, Thomas, for telling us all about SWOT and the important work the charity does. If you’d like to find out more about SWOT, or just follow their journey, find them on Instagram @swotqub.

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