News Report / Profile
Andreia Daniel – President of the AEFML
In times of political turmoil in the country and when freedom was scarce, between academic crises and conflicts with the political police, the Faculty of Medicine was called the "sanctuary of freedom", because police did not enter nor were students confronted, even without a formally constituted Association. There, the students' issues and aspirations were freely discussed.
A few decades later, matters of freedom fragility are no longer raised, but the historical heritage weighs on and prides those who belong to the Association.
Today, collective ideals are preferred over individual ones. The weight of responsibility and the 100 years of history of the Institution where you study makes you aware that all the decisions that are taken require prior investigation and analysis, because today you are following a path that has already been conquered.
Andreia Daniel is the President of the Student Association of the Faculty of Medicine of Lisbon since June 14, the date that marked the inauguration of the governing bodies for the 2018/2019 term.
She picked the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon because it is the oldest one and the one with the greatest historic recognition. Her good grades have always allowed her to choose what she likes most. "Health being something inherent to all of us, helping others was always a passion" that was part of her nature.
From Alentejo, Beja to be more precise, she left her parents and young sister and came after her future with no hesitations. Since she got into college, she lived life to the fullest and rapidly started getting involved with the AEFML, which she joined in 2016 and never left. She says that being part of the Association brings out her will for human understanding and caring about others.
She's never had a clear idea about what she wanted to be in her medical life. Surgery fascinated her and she realises that she is "more into those kind of proceedings", but that she needs to come into contact with the new specialities that the 5th year has in store for her, so that she has a fair understanding of all her options.
At no point does she complain, much less complain about how demanding her role is. She looks at the difficulties in some classes as a challenges and not as scary and says that "the life of a doctor is a long life of learning".
It is not the AEFML presidency that places the responsibility of medicine into second plan. She goes in early to start the day with classes and only then "loses a few hours of sleep to be able to answer all the requests". She justifies that she has the habit of working late because the night inspires her to work, but it's easy to see that she's just trying to fit in what she does in the rhythm of the minutes that fit into blocks of hours.
Fitting in the work from the Association, in which she has been involved almost since she got here, is a dose she can endure. However, if it were not for the rigour and the method of a good student, something would surely get left behind. "There more you get ahead in the course the more demanding it becomes she explains that Presidents are in more advanced years, usually in their 5th year". The experience and training acquired are imperative conditions for those who are fit to be President.
Each term lasts one year, a year she considers as an extension of the work that was previously developed and not as a moment to shine alone.
With an ever-appeasing look, she welcomes me to the Association, brings a black t-shirt with the acronym AEFML; Andreia is the example that simplicity is the mirror of a huge inner wealth. But she is also the symbol of a group of responsible people and with an accurate sense of duty with others. But aren't those the essential foundations of a good doctor? "We want the best for this institution and to do the best work for students. But we aren't a business, or a machine, we do this for the students and because we really like it". And that's how our conversation starts.
What makes a medical student, who is known to have a very methodical and committed personality, get involved in a project like the Student Association?
Andreia Daniel: That's really interesting because what moves us is precisely what comes from the Faculty. Me joining the Association was always connected to my attending the Faculty. That was always what moved me, of course being in the Association is demanding, but when the Faculty demands more, then of course we have to focus more on that. But as an Association we are very focused, among the other Associations in the country we are the one with more history, and we stand out for being methodical with very structured and thought-out activities. I think these characteristics reflect the profile of a doctor and the responsibility that has in society, and we transpose those concepts into associativism. Now, of course, we have limitations, but also great flexibility in order to create something new. When we have a problem, we have the ability to create the solution as well, and if out there sometimes it's difficult to build something that is really ours, here it's possible because it's part of us, but always aimed at others. And of course that reinforced my relationship with the Faculty itself and motivated me year after year.
And step by step you become President of the AEFML. How does that process happen?
Andreia Daniel: As there was only one list, each person suggested their role. We always have to have an odd number of members. Last year, we were 27 and this year we're 29; because we increased the workload in the Association, we thought it was also appropriate to increase the number of members. It is important to note that we do not want to overburden those who are here, because what we want is to be doctors. We have a management group, composed by the President and Vice Presidents, and then we have the Treasurer, the Secretary and the Members divided into the remaining departments. In addition to Management, we have the Organising Committees for the various projects, engaging with the remaining interested student community.
Getting here is a little personal, it's thinking that there are things we want to do and that we are capable of giving our contribution to the project. But it's important to never look at this job as something individual, because we are a team and we work as a team. Here, we don't do projects on our own, but we must fight for our objectives and never give up because everything starts with one person and others join in, and that's how a list is built and after that we build dreams. And then we work in this machine that is already operating a lot on its own, it's just redirecting the way. Continuity is important because there are "battles" and ideas that you cannot put into practice in a year, and continuity allows for that. It is also important to say that whoever comes, year after year, has to change some things so that everything works out, and for that we also need to know how to bring this inheritance from behind.
Do you think the AEFML is representative of the majority opinion of students?
Andreia Daniel: We are very good at representing students, we work hard in the National Association of Medical Students, which is a Federation that brings together the associations of medical students across the country; We have been working for a short time in the Academic Federation of Lisbon, which brings together the associations of the city of Lisbon; here they work for the university and for associativism, it is very attached to the government. This is our main task as an Association, because we are moved by students' rights. Of course we create activities, but we are only healthy if we have a strong student representation and that comes from recognition. I think students recognise the importance of our role.
Do students need to be defended? Aren't they defended by being in an institution?
Andreia Daniel: We work in partnership with the Faculty and since I've been in the Association the Faculty has always showed willingness to work with the Association to solve many of the students' issues and doubts. But there are fundamental reforms ... I'll give you an example of a fundamental reform of clinical teaching, it was always our intention to join the committee and also give students who could be represented a voice. The Faculty heard us. And of course the Faculty worries about its students. However, as an Association we are in the spotlight because we have contributions to give. We work focused on Faculty issues and we are concerned with creating documents and structuring our opinion so that we can then defend it. This is important even for the Institution itself, which has a sustained opinion, and arguments based on reality.
Your compromise to the institution is clear as is the level of responsibility you take on. But then how do you explain that commitment is not reflected in professor evaluation surveys, which, apparently, still have low participation rates?
Andreia Daniel: The participation rates in evaluation surveys are, in fact, still low and for the professors they possibly don't reflect the reality of the students in a certain subject area. The truth is it's a culture that is created. Structured education evaluation surveys created by the Faculty are very recent. The Association created hot topics, through the Pedagogy and Medical Education Department; and it was a moment of joy for us when the Faculty began to use them.
Interesting... And were completion rates more effective then?
Andreia Daniel: I think that the discrepancy between the two parties wasn't so relevant. But the truth is that it is a culture that is created and that should come from the Faculty, but it shouldn't be something imposed and it isn't. That is, the completion of the surveys is not mandatory, which means that students only complete them if they wish.
Do you think it should mandatory?
Andreia Daniel: There are always some constraints. If they were mandatory, there would obviously be a higher response rate, but there would probably be more biased answers and maybe we wouldn't find out the reality of our Faculty's situation. At this moment and how they currently work, those who fill them out tell the truth because it isn't mandatory and therefore the completion rate is lower. I think we must find a balance between the two. Ideally we always want to have the truth and that should be what the student says. The AEFML has been asking the students to complete the surveys, in fact, we have had dissemination campaigns regarding the education evaluation surveys. In fact, in the last ones, we even had small films to urge the students to fill them. Professor Fausto Pinto and Professor Joaquim Ferreira made videos, the students of the Pedagogical Council and the AEFML did too. It will be effective because it shows the importance of our joint request and not the consequences. The message we tried to convey is that our voice is heard and it will be disappointing if we stop being heard.
As an Association, is it important for you who the Director is? There is a interesting link between dates which is the fact that your election as President of the Association happened shortly before Professor Fausto was reelected.
Andreia Daniel: The choice for Director is extremely important because that is the highest representative of the Faculty. The relationship with the Director and the work we do with him are also important. For us, the person who is in charge of the Faculty is important, but only as much as the dialogue, the communication and the work that we can establish with him. Of course, the Director has his goals for the Faculty, as well as the Association has its own, but we have coinciding points along the way, as is the case of the reform of clinical teaching, or even preclinical education, and social issues such as tuition. They are all common concerns. The candidacy of this Director is already based on follow-up work; this is very important because there is already stability and with this we have achieved very good things, such as the Student Support Office, which welcomes projects such as Solvin'it, Espaço S, and Mentoring, which are very important for us. Having a Student Support Office is frankly an important topic as it has become a representative structure within the Faculty, and having Rita Sobral (the Faculty's employee responsible for this Office) with us helps organise many of the activities and enables a stronger monitoring of scholarship students.
You have spoken a few times about Mentoring, which is a project that focuses on student onboarding, mainly in the most difficult phase which is when they come to a place that is new for them. When students are admitted, do they need a lot of support?
Andreia Daniel: Quite a lot. Particularly in this course. Many arrive here and aren't even from Lisbon, they leave their parents behind and come to bigger city that they don't know, and the Faculty is a place that strains us. And, of course, being a Faculty within a Hospital there must a structure to hold the students. There has to be someone that tells them "even if you don't need it, there's someone here for you", because sometimes they get here and they have no relatives and haven't made friends yet. They come to a city where rent is high, we're actually creating information to help them with accommodation. Mentoring reflects its usefulness because every year there have been more and more mentors.
What is your opinion regarding initiation rituals (praxe)?
Andreia Daniel: There are initiations rituals (praxe) at the Faculty ran by a group that isn't under the Association's responsibility, it's the Praxe Committee, it is independent. They organise the praxe, what time it starts and what activities will be held. Praxe is more intense during enrolment, but the Association keeps on developing its activities, simultaneously, and the relationship is comfortable for both parties. According to our notion of what it is to be a doctor, we are very conscious about each other's space and that's very healthy. We believe that the experience of a new student at the Faculty should be full and participating in praxe is optional, nobody forces anyone to go to praxe.
A year from now when you look back, what do you want to see accomplished as the AEFML's top representative?
Andreia Daniel: It's funny because we're just coming back from holiday (our interview was on August 28th) and we're looking back on what was already done, what needs to be done and guiding the way from now on. For this term, we proposed looking at the general picture and seeing what was wrong for students, for example, what repairs and works were needed to be done, but also at the student representation level. As I said earlier, the Academic Federation of Lisbon is something new, we only joined as associates last year. Therefore, it is big challenge because the Federation works a lot for the city of Lisbon and that has its weight because the University is inherent to it. We also have the national meeting of associative directorates, which is a weekend that brings together all the associations and where issues related to higher education are discussed and then taken to the government. So we have a lot to do.
We also want to continue working on the clinical teaching reform, which is a battle we want to continue fighting because we must build a solid document, together with the professors whose support we know is crucial.
Andreia Daniel is very concerned about the number of doctors who will not have access to a specialty. She sees the reduction of numerus clausus as a solution to regularise the problem of the many doctors without access to a specialty.
Finishing her degree and starting work routines may turn out to be the greatest moment of her life, which will announce the beginning of a great cycle. However, leaving her first home of the past years, where she formed her Lisbon family is something she'd rather not face yet.
After Andrea someone will come to give continuity, but for now this is her moment, despite her collective, she will do everything to leave a legacy for all students, associates or not.
As for us, we are obliged to watch her steps and wish her an excellent term.
[su_slider source="media: 26179,26180,26182,26184,26185" limit="25" link="image" target="blank" width="400" height="320" responsive="no" title="no" pages="no" autoplay="0" speed="5000"][su_slider source="media: 19344,19346,19396,19359,19351,19348,19356,19372,19343,19371,19373,19382,19385,19386,19388,19393,19377,19394,19401,19342,19318,19316,19315,19313,19310,19308,19306,19303,19299" limit="13" link="lightbox" width="920" height="580" responsive="no" title="no" mousewheel="no" autoplay="5300" speed="2100"][/su_slider]