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21st September 2016

“Save a child’s life and you change the world”

I learn as much from the stories, courage and comradery of the young people we train in the StreetDoctors sessions as they learn from us volunteers.

When I was 8, we had a fancy dress day at school. We were told to come into school dressed as “what we wanted to be when we grew up”. My classmates came dressed as astronauts, fire fighters and one of my friends even came dressed as a fairy. I dressed up in camouflage with a stethoscope as I was convinced I wanted to be a doctor, not that I really knew what a doctor did. I think I wanted to be a doctor because medicine is a great love shared by many members of my family and I loved visiting my Daddy’s GP surgery. I loved the smell; I loved the patients, the photos on the wall and the idea that you were changing people’s lives. It all sounded very exciting. As I grew older my reasons for wanting to study medicine changed and were strongly influenced by my love of working with children with disabilities and helping them to focus on their abilities and strengths, rather than their difficulties. I always felt that everyone has something valuable to give to the world. One thing that remained constant throughout was my desire to be able to offer support, even with the smallest of touches and a comforting word, during what are often the worst times of peoples’ lives. In addition to our applications to medical school which spoke about a fascination with science and problem solving predispositions, we all want to save lives.

After settling into medical school, I wanted to be part of Nottingham as well as the “bubble” of university life. I certainly didn’t feel I’d saved any lives yet, but we had been taught the emergency life-saving first aid skills that would allow us to, should we ever find ourselves in a situation of need. When I heard about StreetDoctors I realised that, to truly change lives, the knowledge, skills and empowerment required for life-saving actions must be present where the need is greatest.

Two years on and the pride and humility that I feel every time we see the transformation of young people, who realise that they are valued by us and of value in society, never fades. I learn as much from the stories, courage and comradery of young people we meet as they learn from us. I truly believe that everyone in society, regardless of age, background and journey, has something to give and something to learn.

We had the privilege of hearing Junior Smart, founder of the SOS Project, speak at our annual conference in Leeds in October 2015. As he spoke I looked around at a packed lecture theatre of medical students and junior doctors, with our shared interests and hugely varying journeys, all united in admiration. We heard of the devastating effects of youth violence on everyone involved, including parents, siblings, children and partners, and the positive impact of belief in and empowerment of young people. Junior said that he felt honoured to be in our presence, a feeling more than reciprocated by our deafening applause and a number of tear-stained faces.

Junior told us that “you save a child’s life and you change the world”. The young people we meet could have been anyone. They could have been me, they could have been the children with disabilities who inspired me to go into medicine, and they could have been my classmate who dressed as a fairy. They can also, given the opportunities and support, become anyone: astronauts, fire fighters, and life-savers.

Mouse Barnes (StreetDoctors Nottingham volunteer and medical student at the University of Nottingham)