Medical Student 101 – A guide to protesting

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Jun Lao, Mess Editor, with a brief look at the art of protesting[/box]

A masked protestor from the Occupy protests of 2011

A masked protestor from the Occupy protests of 2011

The gloomy spectre of the junior doctor contract reforms looms over all of us as medical students. Any attempts to escape its ghastly shadow in order to gain a little respite from the crushing despair further news of the attacks bring are simply futile. There are almost hourly surges in rage from even the most sedate of students and doctors whether on social media or on the wards. These spikes of fury are of course often fuelled by Jeremy Hunt’s incessant and extraordinarily successful attempts to reach new heights of incompetence and sheer stupidity. His frankly miraculous ability to redefine the meaning of a ‘weekend’, which for us mere mortals usually only consists of Saturdays and Sundays, to include Fridays and Mondays is but one example. This probably infuriates you too. You’re almost certainly angry about the contract reforms too. Why wouldn’t you be? This is an attack on our profession and an attack on the NHS. But instead of fantasising about Jeremy Hunt’s impending fall from grace and into a life of disgrace and humiliation might I suggest channeling this anger and coming to the second London protest this Saturday, the 17th of October – it begins in Waterloo Place at 2pm and will end in Parliament Square at 6pm. Perhaps then you might be a step closer to seeing that descent into ignominy.

As we stand on the precipice of the largest protests against the contract reforms yet, with simultaneous demonstrations planned in London, Nottingham and Belfast this Saturday, it is worth looking back at previous protests and uprisings and to the fearless pioneers of the past. With this in mind I have taken inspiration from their example to compile a list of tips and things to bear in mind before you set out on Saturday.

V for Vendetta, 2006

V for Vendetta, 2006

  • Dress code – dress in scrubs and a stethoscope or failing that smart clinic clothes, a stethoscope and an ID badge. Think back to the Occupy protests of 2011. What images come to mind? For many it would be images of hordes of protesters in Guy Fawkes masks, taken from the notorious comic book and later film V for Vendetta, standing in solidarity and helping to firmly establish the anti-establishment nature of the protest in the eyes of the world. We can do the same albeit with a rather different message by providing a clear reminder of the importance of junior doctors to the NHS and to the country with a visual symbol of our profession. Images of a sea of blue scrubs marching on Whitehall or a mass of students and doctors in shirts and stethoscopes holding placards would be undoubtedly powerful images which could do more to communicate the dissatisfaction with the government and its regressive proposals than a 10 minute rant about the specifics of paragraph 4.10 of the DDRB proposals ever could (that’s the section on annual pay progression if you didn’t know)
Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the March on Washington congregation in 1963

Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the March on Washington congregation in 1963

  • Remember the goals of the protest and stay on message – the most successful protests have clear goals and messages they wish to communicate. The March on Washington, setting of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, was successful in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act partly due to a clear outline of what they intended to achieve through the protest. Similar principles apply here. You might have heard about proposals for a cap on locum pay as well which could further exacerbate staff shortages especially in A&E. This certainly is a major issue worthy of attention but the main focus of the protests ought to be the junior doctor contract reform and its impending imposition. Any deviation will simply be a distraction and allow the message to be diluted.


  • Keep it simple – this applies to slogans, placards, interviews, general chats with the public etc. Both the mainstream media and the public are unlikely to listen to a lengthy diatribe with a long 50 point list of incredibly specific grievances. Try to condense the grievances you have with the reforms into a few headline points and stick to those. With regards to slogans and placards look to examples from the past. ‘We are the 99%’ – Occupy Protests, ‘Make love not war’ – Vietnam War protests, ‘Black Lives Matter’ – Black Lives Matter – these are all simple, no more than 4 words and so easy to fit on a placard. Aim for the same.
  • Remain calm, polite and professional – it is probably incredibly unlikely that you will be approached by the media for your views but on the off chance you do just keep it simple, don’t panic and don’t come across as bitter or unprofessional. If the subject of Jeremy Hunt comes up…tread lightly. You have a career to think about and you are representing your medical school and your profession.

He looks so uncomfortable

  • Harness the power of social media – the Arab Spring protests were sustained over a period of over 2 years, even resulting in the governments of 4 countries being swept from power, partly through the influence of social media and the ability to organise such protests and disseminate information. Mainstream media organisations are subject to a number of opposing influences and pressures whether governmental or otherwise and are often dominated by personalities seeking to impose their own agenda. They cannot always be trusted to provide a true reflection of such events or accurately represent the opinions of junior doctors. Social media on the other hand is the great equaliser of our times, providing a voice to the masses. Take full advantage. Live tweet, snapchat, post videos on Facebook, post a bunch of duck face selfies with a placard on Instagram whatever. Tell your Tinder matches if you must.
  • Know your rights – there is unlikely to be much trouble at the protest as there will be few troublemakers amongst the crowd and the police will undoubtedly be wary of challenging a group containing so many doctors. Nevertheless it is best to be prepared for the worst eventualities and to fight for your right to protest if necessary. At the end of the article is a a link to a useful guide from Liberty and NUS on your rights to protest as protected by the Human Rights Act as well as guidance on what is allowed on a protest under the Public Order Act. Have a quick read.
  • Practical tips – the protest is going to be outside and lasting for several hours with autumn well and truly under way here in London. Need I say more? Obviously bring warm clothes, comfy shoes, an umbrella and some water. Have a decent lunch beforehand. Also try to stick with and look out for your friends lest you get lost in the crowd as phone reception can be patchy at such events. Arrange a meeting point at the end in case you really do get lost in the 16,000 or so due to attend.

So there you have it. Protesting effectively in a nutshell. But before you rush off to decorate your placards it would be wise to think carefully about who the protest is truly aimed at. There will undoubtedly be much vitriol directed in Jeremy Hunt’s direction at these protests. But to focus purely on the Health Secretary’s numerous failings and unashamed lies would be to distract from the dominant issue. The imposition of these regressive and destructive junior doctor contract reforms are the main issue and they are not simply down to one man. The whole government must be held accountable. NHS Employers must be held accountable. The DDRB must be held accountable. And that is why this Saturday, 17th of October, we must all protest loudly and strongly enough to make our voices heard and hold all those involved accountable.


Junior doctor contract protests facebook event –

Epidemiology Professor’s response to paper Jeremy Hunt keeps citing incorrectly –

Liberty/NUS protest guide –

Quote of the week

“To spend one’s life being angry, and in the process doing nothing to change it, is to me ridiculous. I could be mad all day long, but if I’m not doing a damn thing, what difference does it make?” – Charles Fuller

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