34181 Lessons back in full swing before Participants enjoy some rather unique activities

Tuesday saw a steep drop in UK temperatures from last week as the students settled into their lessons and enjoyed a more laid-back day. In the afternoon, they enjoyed free time by chilling in Cambridge’s beautiful spaces and rehearsing for the upcoming talent night – even the mentors found a moment to watch  and sing along to the new Lion King, which they highly recommend to any mentees looking for a film to watch during their breaks. Afterwards, the Catz mentors took this opportunity to have some R&R with face masks – a first time experience for Dan. Meanwhile, Dylan led a ‘Medicine Q&A’ session for people to have their burning questions about the admission process answered – given that there are so many students here interested in pursuing medicine, this proved to be a popular activity!

Last minute talent night acts came in today as well, and we are all incredibly excited to see what our students come up with – the mentors are hard at work at their own act, and they’ve got some other treats up their sleeves for the mentees on Thursday!

In the evening, the students had a choice between three activities – the first was Cake and Canvas, which gave mentors and mentees alike the chance to release their creative juices by painting their own masterpieces. The accompanying cake buffet went down extremely well, as did DJ Reiss’ background tunes. Some of the paintings produced were absolutely stunning!

The second activity was a talk by ’science magician’ Dr Matt Pritchard, which all the students raved about afterwards – his incredible visual illusions captivated the audience and one student even asked how he could watch one of his shows again at the end!

Finally, students were also offered the chance to have private study, allowing them to work on their projects and essays – it’s been great to see how stimulated and interested the students are in their respective subjects, and this gave them a valuable opportunity to delve deeper into more specific areas of interest.

Categories: Articles Tags: , , , | Comments 29641 2019 Winning Essay (16-18 category)

Medicine to Aid Inuit Populations Impacted by Climate Change and Suicide

– Abhayjeet Singh Sachal

“The Arctic is a barometer for the health of the world. If you want to know how healthy the world is, come to the Arctic and feel its pulse” (Watt-Cloutier, 2007). Inuit activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier has spent her life examining the complexities behind climate change and its effects on the Arctic communities she grew up in (Watt-Cloutier, 2007). There is a stark reality that Indigenous peoples living in the Arctic understand: climate change is real. For decades, Inuit peoples in the Arctic have experienced the effects of climate change on health firsthand.

While anthropogenic atmospheric carbon emission levels have increased, suicide rates have also drastically increased in Inuit communities (Nelson and Wilson, 2017). To address mental health concerns facing Arctic communities to employ effective climate mitigation and suicide prevention strategies, the following question must be addressed: to what extent is there a correlation between suicide rates in Arctic communities and climate change?

Marginalization of Inuit peoples based on property of land has led to mental health issues of depression, alcoholism, and inter-generational trauma, which equate in part to high suicide rates today (Kral, 2016). Additionally, historical trauma has led to a deprived current socio-economic state of Inuit communities, which has led to decreased access to health facilities and various infrastructural challenges (Willox, Harper, Ford, Landman, and Houle, 2012). The strong correlation between suicide and climate change can be accounted for by Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome and the concept of solastalgia. Both theories revolve around themes of group loss and resultant unfamiliarity of local environment. Research shows that shortened hunting seasons and melting sea ice can result in feelings of “homesickness” and trigger responses of exhaustion for Inuit peoples living in the Arctic (Willox et al., 2012).

As such, there is a very strong relationship between climate change and high rates of suicide in Arctic communities. In order to tackle this issue, medical professionals must play a prominent role. Because of the numerous other other historical and socio-economic factors play a significant role in heightened Arctic suicide rates, physicians must work with Indigenous Elders to create culturally-sensitive treatment plans for the Inuit. Undoubtedly, the issue of elevated suicide rates is a health issue. While climate change exacerbates the severity of the situation, research into mitigation and adaptation strategies will allow communities to better cope with changes brought on by climate change and therefore improve community mental health and wellbeing. The specific discipline of neurology and neuroscience allows for endless opportunities to understand phenomena related to mental illness, especially in unique cases such as those faced by vulnerable populations. It is the role of healthcare systems to serve those that are most prone to adverse health issues. Through increased research on neurological aspects of depression and suicide along with culturally-relevant practices to improve local health, the issue of elevated suicide rates in the Arctic can be addressed with a strong emphasis on correlational factors with climate change.


Kral, M. J. (2016). Suicide and Suicide Prevention among Inuit in Canada. ​The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(​ 11), 688-695. Doi: 10.1177/0706743716661329 Nelson, S. E., & Wilson, K. (2017). The mental health of Indigenous peoples in Canada: A critical review of research. ​Social Science & Medicine,176​, 93-112. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.021 ​Watt-Cloutier, S. (2007) Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Hood Museum of Art. Willox, A. C., Harper, S. L., Ford, J. D., Landman, K., Houle, K., & Edge, V. L. (2012). “From this place and of this place:” Climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada. ​Social Science & Medicine,75(​ 3), 538-547. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.043

Categories: Articles Tags: , , | Comments 29113 A Dozen, Dazzling Lives: What it’s Like to Study Medicine

I like to imagine that if we found life in some far-flung corner of our solar system, we would attempt to extrapolate an entire biosphere, evolving across the aeons, based on the Europan equivalent of the common cold.  As a lone medical student, I empathise with that alien pathogen since I’m now partly responsible for how you’ll perceive my degree, profession and colleagues. In light of that, I should say that my experiences won’t reflect those of all medical students in Cambridge, the UK or the world. Universities vary, countries vary and, most importantly, people vary in how they approach this challenging, fun and beautifully mad degree.

And I don’t think I truly grasped how mad it was until the induction in my first year at Cambridge.

With Great Power

Early in Michaelmas term, before any actual learning had begun, all the baby medics toddled down to the School of Clinical Medicine, dwarfed beside the hulking mass of Sir John Addenbrooke’s hospital. Nervously seated in a subterranean lecture theatre, named for Sir William Harvey, we took in the talks that followed.

We heard doctors and the Clinical Dean. Even the Regius Professor of Physic, appointed by Her Majesty herself. Each figure impressed upon us the great privilege that this profession would afford us and the responsibility we must show to earn, honour and wield that privilege for the good of our patients.

I. Was. Ecstatic.

Here was that noble order of healers I had hoped to join. Humanity’s route out of pain and away from death. A few more years in that fragile orbit about that dark sun. We all know that gravity will win, outlasting every orbit, just as death will take us all when we flag and wane.

But the medics and the surgeons see this inexorable fall and say “No.”

I was ready to become that lifeline, in pursuit of this cosmic, nay, holy calling. I would learn, I would grow, I would –

… Snooze my alarm seven times before deciding that an 8:45am pharmacology lecture just wasn’t worth it.

Comes Crushing Reality

At Cambridge, the medical student’s natural habitat is the library for the first three years. “Patient” becomes synonymous with “unicorn”, and we seldom saw that privilege. In all honesty, I wasn’t even sure what that mystical medical privilege really was. And it didn’t matter. Not when these exams were very, very easy to fail.

Yet, with no privilege in sight, the responsibility was ever present. Any undergraduate debauchery had to be kept away from social media, any strong political leanings had to be thoroughly edited before entering a public arena.  Academic life became an endless parade of arbitrary facts. Drugs we don’t use. Muscles we don’t care about. Rats in heat. Of course, cadaveric dissection in anatomy was sublime and the practical experiments were great for understanding, but there was still a disconnect.

Outwardly, we all had to look the part of the medic. But inwardly, I didn’t feel like one. I felt like a scientist. A very tired, very aimless, young scientist.

Before the Clarity

It was practice.

All the early mornings, the rote memorisation, the in-depth exploration of scientific concepts. All of it, was designed (perhaps not perfectly) to make pretending to be a doctor as familiar as possible.

Because, in years four to six, that’s what we do. We pretend to be doctors for long enough that we become them. The only difference is that we now learn things that we can use with patients, and we already understand why they work. At least at some level. I honestly don’t remember everything they taught me – but those three years instilled me with an almost instinctive confidence that I will quickly understand a medical concept if briefly explained.

Remember that privilege?

I see it now.

When you’re in a consultation room with a patient, you’re not a stranger to them. For a few minutes, you are their doctor, degree or not. And that trust in your good intentions, that belief in your ability – that’s the privilege. You’re granted a window, oh so many windows, into the lives of countless people. Their stories are never alike, their voices are so colourful and the times they recall are so vivid that you can live a dozen, dazzling lives in a single day.

And it all starts by asking where it hurts.

So, What’s it Like Then?

Medicine is hard. Of course it is – there’s a reason our stereotype complains all the time!

But if you can fight your way through the slog with your sanity and goodness intact, it’ll be worth it in the end. After all this time, I’ve kept that romanticised view of medicine that I had way back when I applied to university. It’s more than being “clever”, it’s about holding onto who you are and what you believe. If you’re strong enough to do that, you’ll do just fine.

And if the portrait I painted of my first three years sounds a little scary – remember that Cambridge is very traditional, and many other universities throw patients at you from day one. As I said at the start, this is just how it went for me. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same for you.

Personally, I’ve had a challenging four years in this subject, but I have no regrets and I’m really excited to see which corner of medicine I’ll carve out as my own.

If you care about people, love science and don’t mind feeling underpaid, consider medicine. Money’s not everything. You can buy some nice stuff in the reduced section at Tesco, and bargain hunting at charity shops is a really fun way to spend your weekends. And you can make such a huge difference in the lives of people, families and communities.

Be a doctor. Just do it, you’ll thank me later.

(I do accept gift cards)

Categories: Articles Tags: , , 9192 Eating Disorders – Fantasy – Parallel

From the very inception of the second wave, feminists have been guilty of idolising the anorexic body, considering it an emblem of that archetypal mantra ‘the personal is political’. Rather than presenting anorexia in its irreducibility, it has in the past been used to symbolise the impact of patriarchal culture. In its parody of male dictates, it has been transformed in the eyes of feminists into a form of social protest – action rather than words against the cultural framework that it exists within. Indeed, the imagined anorexic ‘end product’ – a body lacking in breasts, hips, menstruation or “feminine” signifiers – is thought represent self-achieved freedom. In reality, though, the mystification of eating disorders disguises a far painful narrative of powerlessness. To quote Naomi Wolf in her near canonical ‘The Beauty Myth’,

wiki pic

The anorexic may begin her journey defiant, but from the point of view of a male-dominated society, she ends up as the perfect woman. She is weak, sexless, and voiceless, and can only with difficulty focus on a world beyond her plate. The woman has been killed off in her.[1]

Whilst likely a relic of the hunger strikes of the early 20th Century suffragette movement, such idolisation can be traced back as far as the 18th Century, to those who were known as the ‘Fasting Women’.[2] These women would lie in bed without a morsel of food for weeks on end, transforming themselves through cultural mediation into religious idols and icons of pilgrimage or retreat. Their perceived femininity set them apart from the male ‘hunger artist’ – an explicitly masculine spectacle of distortion, distinct from the elevated adoration of the female proto-anorexics. And it is undeniable such fantasies continue today. This is what now demands demystification, in order that such disorders may be seen in their reality, and that all sufferers be properly recognized and treated.

The Curse of the Ideal Woman


If asked to list the qualities of the ‘ideal woman’, many in the Anglo-centric west would reel off a characteristics along the lines of ‘pretty’, ‘slim’, ‘together’, ‘collected’ – namely, ‘not hysterical’. These are none of them attributable to the male figure, indeed, the very word ‘hysterical’ has its origin in the Greek word for ‘uterus’, the hysteric being she whose uterus has become dislodged, traveling about the body. The ‘ideal body’ is intimately bound to the ideal of ‘self-control’: not being ‘too much’, avoiding excess. The fantasy is a package, so much more than simply ‘looking good’. Any loss of control over one’s self, functions, body or emotions, is thought to elicit shame. Specifically relevant here is the Western tradition of associating masculinity with mental ascension, and femininity with corporeality and immanence, subordinating the feminine associations to the masculine. This is particularly relevant to women today, now that they are increasingly ‘admitted’ to previously ‘male’ spaces such as the office or business. The worldview taught these women remains ‘male’, resulting in even greater pressure upon women to conform to the ‘masculine’. The female, which is bodily, is abjected.


As such, the body becomes alien to the idealised mind; a fleshly imprisonment from which the mind desires transcendence. The ‘ideal’ body is primarily ideal in this Cartesian fantasy, abstracted from fleshly needs. The excessively slender body has become culturally symbolic of minimalism and perfection in its removal from desire, whether voracious hunger or sexual insatiability. Note that in many advertising campaigns, female indulgence in food is equated with sexual indulgence and eroticism – something ‘naughty’, to be hidden.

Today this takes effect in the context of cultural postmodernism (post-war, post-nuclear, post-holocaust) – uncertainty and instability. The fantasy of the anorexic is one of both control and beauty, and, as we have learnt, these are often precisely the same thing. Both the inner and outer ‘self’ are linked in one and the same essential fantasy, creating a more ‘marketable’ self through appearance – she who is in control. Similarly, the anorexia sufferer in this climate of self-definition and self-actualization comes to adopt this ‘anorexic self’ as an identity, rather than view themself as a person who suffers from anorexia.

Whilst many condemn the anorexic, it is undeniable that this condemnation goes hand in hand with a sense of awe. “I could never just stop eating”, is something that I have regularly heard said, “I don’t know how they can do it”, with more than a pinch of admiration and envy. The fantasy exists within the disordered mind and community considerably more dangerously. Whilst the image tied to the ‘perfect body’ in mainstream currency is one of healthy control, the ideal within the community takes this to its extremity. The body is taken as exclusively an object for cultivation. Indeed, online communities of eating disorder sufferers post pictures of themselves and one another as means of ‘thinspiration’ for weight loss goals. Often these photographs are headless body shots, taken entirely for purposes of bodily examination and desubjectification. The disorder is shot through with this notion of ‘cleanliness’, cleanliness from sin, sex, dirt, and bodily matter – anything connecting them to impurity.


Indeed Julia Kristeva, psychoanalyst and linguist, has drawn attention to this clean/unclean binary, the unclean being “what is out of place” and therefore threatening to the inside/outside binary.[3] Kristeva suggests that, culturally, we require the body to be “clean and proper in order to be fully symbolic”, bearing “no trace of its debt to nature”. The abject, then, produces feelings of insatiable loathing and disgust, in the subject’s inability to transcend their own body. Kristeva discusses this in terms of the female body specifically, which, as Elizabeth Grosz has stated, is “constructed not only as a lack or absence but with more complexity, as a leaking, uncontrollable, seeping liquid; as formless flow; as viscosity, entrapping, secreting (…) a formlessness that engulfs all form, a disorder that threatens all order”.[4] The fantasy of the sufferer is one of bodily-effacement: to have the outer body reflect the inner turmoil of the mind. Odd, that the body is so central to such preoccupations, and yet never in history has humanity required the body less, given technological advances in industry. The body has come to assume rhetoric over function.

Whilst the results of these constructions speak for themselves, other equally debilitating disorders receive considerably less necessary attention, given the idealisation of the pure, anorexic form. The bulimic, for example, is excluded from the cultural image, eclipsed by the image of the anorexic. The figure evoked is one starkly distinct from that of anorexia, in its immersion within the bodily functions in repetition. As Marya Hornbacher, in her infamous account of her own struggle with disordered eating, describes:

Bulimia acknowledges the body explicitly, violently. It attacks the body but does not deny. It is an act of disgust and of need. (…) The bulimic finds herself in excess, too emotional, too passionate. This sense of excess is pinned to the body (…) There is a sense of hopelessness in the bulimic, a well-fuck-it-all-then, I might as well binge. This is a dangerous statement, for the bulimic impulse is more realistic than the anorexic because, for all its horrible nihilism, it understands that the body is inescapable.[5]


Sociology scholar Sarah Squire in her article ‘Anorexia and Bulimia: Purity and Danger’ demands a remapping of the realities of eating disorders, in a reconceptualization of the ‘eating disorder hierarchy’ and debunking the associated fantasies.[6] One cannot help but notice, though, the erasure of binge eating from this triad, and, similarly, those suffering from EDNOS, whether this be meticulous calorie counting or orthorexia, similarly concentrating the body and its substances. Anorexia comes up trumps, with the remaining eating disorders serving as its ‘ugly sisters’. Likewise, the image of the non-anorexic sufferer is erased from that archetypal image of feminist protest, given the invisibility of such disorders to the unsearching eye. Their suffering hidden and unacknowledged, often these disorders go without treatment or diagnosis.

Trying to Get the Facts Straight

Thus the ‘fantasy’ eating disorder not only isolates anorexia, but is als assumed reserved for young, white, middle-class girls. Indeed, the US-based website National Eating Disorders website reads that,

Exact statistics on the prevalence of eating disorders among women of color are unavailable. Due to our historically biased view that eating disorders affect only white women, relatively little research has been conducted utilizing participants from racial and ethnic minority groups.[7]

Such flippant addressal of this crucial issue is exasperating. Given that in many non-Western cultures the body type heralded is one other than the ultra-slim package of Hollywood and Anglo-centric media, non-white sufferers are regularly dismissed, their disorders going unrecognized. The assumption that one’s ideal conforms to that of their ethnic heritage results in non-white sufferers often feel a heightened shame in addressing their struggles, and often having them cast aside when make the decision to. One sufferer has even reported being told by a medical professional that her disordered eating must of course stem from her stress at the potential prospect of a future arranged marriage, as opposed to any other, considerably more probable factor, such as the straddling of multiple cultures, unable either to unify their pressures or assimilate oneself into either or. This is not just the case in terms of ethnicity, but also one of sexuality. When a woman with disordered eating is a lesbian, for example, perhaps identifying less with Western stereotypes of femininity, treatment may end up being inappropriate to their own experiences which are potentially more related to struggle with gender identity and homophobia rather than that presumed of media image and slenderness. The need here is to recognize that the media and health services have misrepresented eating disorders to the general public, and as such are approaching the problem poorly and inappropriately.

This is a call, then, to acknowledge the realities of eating disorders in their multiplicity and diversity, debunking the fantasy of the ultra controlling, discretely admired, white women writing into patriarchal dictates, and allowing for treatment of the other, more common possibilities which may or may not be expected or accepted. The romanticisation of eating disorders, inherently tied to the notion of ‘white perfectionism’, must be demystified in favour something with full disclosure.

[1] Wolf, N. 1991, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. London: Vintage, p. 197.

[2] See Gooldin, S. 2003, ‘Fasting women, living skeletons and hunger artists: spectacles of body and miracles at the turn of a century’ in Body and Society, Vol. 9(2), 27-53.

[3] Kristeva, J. 1982, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 102.

[4] Grosz, E. 1994, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 203.

[5] Hornbacher, M. 1998, Wasted: a Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. New York: Harper Flamingo, p. 153.

[6] See Squire, S. 2003, ‘Anorexia and bulimia: purity and danger’ in Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 18(40), 17-26.

[7] National Eating Disorders. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed on 1 April 2016].

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