Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a violation of public health that must be tackled by the medical profession. This is a view upheld by the UK government, Unicef, the GMC and the BMJ, yet is a topic area that is not taught to medical students as a compulsory part of the training curriculum. Instead, the training is left until the postgraduate level, with particular focus in areas such as Obstetrics and Gynaecology. This allows for doctors in those areas most likely to come into contact with the issue to have the appropriate skills to deal with the situation, but also leaves a huge gap in the knowledge of doctors in many other specialities that could come into contact with cases of FGM.
Medical school is of course the traditional route for providing prospective doctors with the core knowledge and tools for the practice ahead. By not including FGM as a part of this process, information of even the basic nature of FGM is not being disseminated across the profession. A condition that affects over 130,000 women across the UK should be known to students who can also come into contact with patients that have undergone FGM or at risk of the act. Students are often a secondary source of information for doctors as patients can divulge extra information either by chance or through general conversation that either they did not feel relevant to the doctor, or that they did not have the time to cover.
With knowledge of FGM, students can be prepared to spot the warning signs of affected female patients they come into contact with, and form part of the process that the healthcare system has for the protection of vulnerable children. Students need to feel confident in spotting warning signs, to have the courage to raise the issue to a senior doctor, but also know the correct avenue for reporting the issue. Taking on the reporting of physical abuse is a daunting prospect, for which support is warranted in the form of training as it is for other serious issues such as needle stick injuries, reporting unprofessional behaviour and patient child abuse. Merely providing an online module for learning that students can access (if they to know about it) isn't enough for such an important and harmful issue.
Every avenue to improve FGM training for doctors should be identified and many positive steps have been taken: new training schemes, updated guidance and specialist centres for survivors. Even with educational modules being made available for students, the lack of a compulsory element in the undergraduate curriculum is a concern that must be addressed and implemented by the General Medical Council (GMC). There are many diseases that affect a great deal fewer people in the UK that are part of the curriculum, and this discrepancy is not acceptable.
An update to teaching is very much welcomed by medical students from the BMA Student conference of 2014 and the International Federation of Medical Students. Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled renewed plans to combat FGM in the UK, but failed to include any mention of medical students. For the set of actions to be complete, medical students must be included in opposing FGM practice, and the onus is on the GMC to include FGM as a compulsory topic in the medical student undergraduate curriculum.