Dr Phil Hammond, broadcaster and GP returner in Bristol

Medical students can be a delightful audience – in the early years, in small groups, before the cynicism has kicked in and there’s more than a whiff of youthful idealism. I really enjoy talking to them.

But big social events are altogether different, especially now all the medical schools are expanding and enlarging into one huge amorphous blob.

Throw in the manic, alcohol fuelled celebrations of passing finals, and you’d be mad to accept an after dinner speech invitation.

So why did I? Well, for a start it was my old medical school. Or at least part of it was. I was at St Thomas’ but it has now merged with Guy’s, and King’s.The year is so huge that many of the students met for the first time at the graduation photo.

But I wanted to go, partly out of morbid curiosity and partly because it’s a tough gig – even hardened stand-up comedians turn down medical student balls. But I like stepping out of the comfort zone occasionally.

The first rule is to make sure you get a room for the night. Ever since Newcastle medics made me drink a yard of ale, I’ve realised you can’t hope to get offstage sober.

Someone will always find it hysterically funny to transport you back to your student drinking days, and with a roomful of crazed medics baying for blood, you’d be foolish to refuse. So you’ll need somewhere to sleep it off.

Next up, check that the microphone works. If it doesn’t, you’re going to die on your feet very quickly. If it does, you stand a small chance of getting a few words out before the drinking games begin.

Third, eat the meal. You can use the time to judge the mood of the audience and also to get a bit of insider gossip. I quickly managed to find out who’d won the sclerotic liver award and who was “the most enthusiastic flange artist” (whatever that is).

The next tip is to seek out someone your own age for reassurance. Alas, in a year of 360 students, not a single lecturer or tutor came. Apparently, the numbers are so vast, no-one feels any sense of ownership, or that they know the students well enough to share in the joy of their finals’ ball.

I found this all very depressing. For teachers, what greater cause for celebration is there than your students’ success?

So there I was, the oldest in the room by 20 years, trying to pass on some top tips before they all go over the top from the trenches and into house jobs (or foundation year one as it’s now called).

But before I could get to the first punch-line, the room erupted in a chorus of “Ginge!” Now, I’m used to people picking on me for the colour of my hair, but this was absurd. After a few minutes, I realised they were shouting “Gin!” Apparently, I had to be ‘ginned’ (drink eight shots of gin down in one) before I could continue.

So I did. And I don’t remember what happened after that.

Guidelines in Practice, August 2005, Volume 8(8)
© 2005 MGP Ltd
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