The Student Voice Prize - our essay competition

Our annual essay competition raises rare disease awareness and highlights patient challenges among the doctors and researchers of tomorrow

Modern healthcare headlines are dominated by cancer, diabetes, and the obesity crisis, leaving little room for the plethora of rare genetic conditions that affect patients worldwide. However, with the rise of personalised medicine, rare disease diagnoses will become increasingly common. Sadly, there are few opportunities to study these rare conditions at university, leaving medical students and scientists unprepared to deal with the complex needs of rare disease patients.

The Student Voice essay competition raises the profile of rare diseases among trainee doctors and scientists. It encourages them to consider rare diseases for the first time or share their personal experience of rare conditions. With the winning entries published by our partners at BioMed Central, the best essays have a chance to make a real impact on the work of medical professionals.

Don’t just take our word for it - meet Becki

Becki is a medical student studying at the University of Cambridge, aspiring to become a paediatrician. Alongside managing her lectures, labs and learning, Becki also lives with a rare connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which can have a profound impact on her energy levels and movement. In 2016 she entered “The Student Voice” competition, using her unique perspective as both a doctor and rare disease patient to write a fantastic essay tackling the relationship between rare diseases and mental health, entitled “It’s not all in my head!”. She was selected as our overall winner, which led to her article being published in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, a position on the panel at BM Manifesto’s annual conference, and a talk at the Students 4 Rare Diseases conference.

“I think BM Manifesto’s work in raising awareness of rare diseases amongst medical students is really important - they aren’t featured often enough in our curriculum. The essay competition has definitely helped me become more aware of some of the issues in looking after rare disease patients, and has made me consider going into this area for a career. I’m really grateful for the opportunities it has provided.”

How it works

Open annually for six weeks starting in October, the competition poses three questions that encourage students to think about the patient experience of rare diseases, and the ways that doctors and researchers can improve it.

The competition is open to medical students, biology undergraduates, and biology masters students worldwide. All are invited to answer one of our three questions in less than 1,500 words, in a style accessible to all rare disease stakeholders. Entries are judged by a panel of rare disease experts and patients. They pick a winning essay for each question, one of which is declared the overall winner.

Each winning essay receives a cash prize, and free entry to BM Manifesto’s annual conference, Drug Repurposing for Rare Diseases. Furthermore in 2015, BM Manifesto began a partnership with BMC’s Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, giving the winner of the competition the chance to become a published author. Support from Students 4 Rare Diseases, now Medics 4 Rare Diseases, has also ensured that our winners receive opportunities to get more involved in the student rare disease community.

How do I get involved?

The Student Voice Prize 2019 is now closed. The winners of this year’s event have now been announced, and you can find out more about them in our essay winners blog. The winning articles can be read in full on the The Student Voice Prize 2019 web page.

University representatives
Spread the word about the competition around your department, and encourage your students to engage in the world of rare diseases. You can follow our dedicated twitter feed - @StudVoicePrize - to find out when the competition launches again.

We are always on the lookout for sponsors to help make our competition a reality. If you are interested in supporting The Student Voice 2024, visit our corporate giving page to learn more.

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With thanks to our sponsors:

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Past competitions

The Student Voice Prize 2019

The Student Voice 2019 saw the continued growth of the competition, with more entries and more winners than ever before. Our patient group pairing scheme continued, and our winners gave talks at both the Medics4RareDiseases and BM Manifesto conferences.

We were very impressed with the essays written by our four winners, which you can read in full, or in blog form, below.


Winner - Anna-Lucia Koerling

No Friends 1

Read in OJRD

Runner-up - Sandy Ayoub

Dual Deprivation for Rare Disease

Blog / Essay

Runner-up - Muhammad Shaikh

Improving Rare Disease Recognition Via Medical Education

Blog / Essay

Runner-up - Anneliese Ng

No Country for Healthcare Equity

Blog / Essay

The Student Voice 2018

The Student Voice 2018 saw us offer, for the first time, the opportunity for students to be paired with rare disease patient groups to learn from their real life stories. We would like to say a huge thank you to all the patient groups who put themselves forward and the students who were open to this collaborative effort. This side of the project was a huge success and it is something we hope to continue in future years.

We were very impressed with the essays written by our three winners. Congratulations to them all!

In addition to our three winners, a further entrant’s essay was selected for publication as a blog by BMC, one of our competition judges:

What can future doctors learn from patients with rare diseases? – by Timothy Badcock

The Student Voice 2017

The Student Voice 2017 saw an increased focus on the patient experience of rare diseases. You can find out about the fourth instalment of the competition by reading our review of the competition, or reviewing the winning articles in full.

A further entrant’s essay was selected for publication as a blog by our competition judges.

Collaboration is helping medical professionals and patients with rare diseases to face their challenges – by George Wood

The Student Voice 2016

The Student Voice 2016 saw a continuation of our partnership with the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. You can find out about the third instalment of the competition by reading our review of the competition and three winning entries..

The Student Voice 2015

The second edition of our essay competition saw BM Manifesto partner with BMC’s Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases for the first time. Read our review of the competition and winning entries below.

A further two entrants had their articles published as blogs on the On Biology website.

I’m a teenager – do I care if my disease is rare? – by Harriette Pearson

Rare disease research helps us understand medicine for all diseases – by Jeremy Reid

Essay Competition 2014

Our first essay competition was run in 2014, with the idea conceived by one of BM Manifesto’s first interns.

Winner – Rosemary Grain
How has the study of rare diseases influenced our knowledge of more common diseases?

Runner-up – Benjamin Ng
How has the study of rare diseases influenced our knowledge of more common diseases?

Runner-up – Anne Fitzgibbon
Discuss how experiences of a patient with a rare disease may differ from those of a patient with a common disease