In this series of articles, medical students and doctors from across the UK share their journey into medicine. Aysha is an undergraduate medical student at Anglia Ruskin University.
I know it sounds cringey but my heart has always been set on medicine so much so I took out two gap years to reapply for the course in the hope of becoming a medic and future doctor.
Growing up in East London and attending state schools throughout my education there weren’t a lot of opportunities open for young students to reach their full potential and achieve their ambitions.
Saying this, I know there are now many amazing schemes created by universities and trusts to help anyone aspiring to be a doctor get into medicine so I would definitely recommend looking into these to aide you with your medical application. The drive to prove to myself that I can achieve the dream of being a doctor was definitely something that kept me motivated in my journey into medicine.
What appealed to me most was the challenge of medicine, even though it’s an extremely competitive environment I have always envisioned myself in a career that keeps testing me to step outside my comfort zone and keep learning whilst I do so.
It was a difficult decision to make in deciding whether I wanted to stay through to sixth form at my secondary school or to make a switch to a different setting - a sixth form college. As I had spent five years at my secondary school it wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
However, after attending both open days I came to the realisation that in order to actually grow both as a student and a person it was imperative to actually take the steps to do so.
It was then when I decided that for the sake of my education I would complete my A-levels at another institution more specialised in the subjects I wished to take, and with more insight into the career path I wanted to pursue.
Looking back at it now, I’m adamant that I’ve made the right choice as it opened up opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The jump from GCSE to A-Level was definitely an obstacle at the beginning of the AS year.
Even though it was just four subjects, compared to ten or more for GCSEs depending on your school and options picked, the sheer amount of content that we needed to learn in two years was what I felt made A-Levels the most challenging.
For my options I picked Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Psychology and for year two I continued with these subjects without Psychology.
My sixth form was great in allowing us to build our portfolio through schemes and projects we could get involved in. I was able to earn a Silver Crest award in an extracurricular biology project, through giving up time to create and conduct investigations into a subject area I was interested in. To add on to this, I also participated in being a Biology Tutor Volunteer and was able to give up my free periods to help my other colleagues with their studies. These experiences were really invaluable as I was able to talk about them in my medical interviews and relate them to skills required of a potential medic.
My advice for extracurricular activities would simply be: get involved. If you feel that there aren’t many doors open where you study I suggest asking teachers or personal tutors whether they have any ideas or roles for you to take part in.
Teachers are great resources and there’s no harm in trying. Some teachers have actually worked within healthcare so if anything listening to their experiences can give a great insight into medicine as a whole.
During my two gap years I was able to build up my experience through working and volunteering. I volunteered as a library helper, where my roles were to help and support children with their reading. It was a great experience and felt extremely rewarding to aide others. Additionally, I have a worked as a tutor and have held revision sessions to give them the boost to do well in their exams. As I worked in a tuition centre I could have taught up to seventy different students every week.
Even though it sounds exhausting, the fact that I got to pass knowledge and teach so many people with different abilities and backgrounds was humbling. Once again, these experiences were something I could talk about in my personal statement and in interviews too.
Securing a work experience placement was hard. I didn’t have any family or relatives working in healthcare compared to some other applicants, so to organise a placement I had to do it myself.
In one way it was a good thing. Finding work experience alone shows intuition and dedication to your (hopefully!) future vocation. How did I do it? I sent hundreds of emails to many consultants across London asking them politely whether I could shadow them in practice. 99% of them didn’t email back and I continued until someone got back to me. Eventually a consultant radiologist was nice enough to allow me to do so at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. I learnt a lot over a couple of days of my placement such as the importance of safeguarding in practice and had more insight into specialties in medicine.
If you’re in a similar situation to what I was in I would say just keep going and keep emailing. Someone will get back to you and take you on. If you don’t manage to find work experience in hospitals then it’s not the end of the world.
Many universities understand that it can be difficult but so long as you have some experience relevant to the healthcare sector and are able to talk about what you’ve taken away and learnt about medicine then that should be fine too. Examples include placements in general practice and volunteering in ambulance services.
I started writing my personal statement in the summer before Year 13 started.
To begin with, I wrote out all experiences and extracurricular activities I might want to talk about in my personal statement as a mind map and started to prioritise each one by based on how relevant it is to medicine.
When I finished my list I continued with associating skills like teamwork or leadership with what I had left to work with. I found this to be effective because it gave me a chance to discuss what was important rather than everything and not have the opportunity to go in detail with it. Highlighting what you have learnt is really key as it demonstrates that you’re able to reflect on your own experiences, something which is also necessary to do in medical school.
In summary, if you try and write everything it’s going sound more like a list than a personal statement. Pick the more relevant experiences and sell yourself with those.
To choose medical schools I started with looking through the entry requirements for each university, especially noting down whether they were looking at UCAT or BMAT scores.
If your UCAT score is better than your BMAT score or vice versa it could be more beneficial to apply to those universities deciding interviews based on them, as it could mean a better chance of securing an interview with them.
This link takes you to a page that was similar to the one I had, but for 2021 entry. Additionally, I found it useful to also view the course structure whilst I was doing this.
After attending open days I found that the idea of an integrated course suited me more than a traditional or problem based learning course. The structure of learning material in lectures and having clinical experience early on appealed to me as that exposure to the clinical setting helped me realise how knowledge is put into practice, which is great in preparation for foundation training. Having a good understanding of what differentiates each one can help you decide which medical school you can see yourself being part of.
Many universities have also recognised that it is difficult for students from underrepresented backgrounds to get into medical school and because of this a lot of them now offer widening participation programmes and schemes to increase representation of medics and doctors across the country.
If you feel that this is applicable to you I strongly suggest searching up access to medicine courses and checking medicine entry pages for universities to see whether you’re eligible to apply under widening participation schemes.
Over my application cycles I’ve had interviews at King’s, St George’s, Aston and Anglia Ruskin. Since all of them followed a MMI (multiple mini interview) style, I prepared for all my interviews in a similar way.
A good starting point would be your personal statement.
Print it out and give it to a family member or friend and ask them to quiz you on certain sections you’ve written about. Interviewers can have a copy of your personal statement in front of them and essentially can do the same thing.
Having a good understanding of the experiences which you’ve spoken about can also help with other stations too. Remember, if you are talking about a specific situation and the skill you’ve developed from it, link it back to medicine and why it makes you a good candidate. Doing this myself I found that really help you stand out as an applicant, since the ultimate goal is to be a medic.
Be honest with your answers too. If the question for example asks you to describe an event where you’ve had to break bad news, even talking about the time that you might have accidentally broken your mum’s vase and owned up to it can be used. It doesn’t have to be a significant life changing event so long as you are able to demonstrate what you’ve taken away and learnt from it, which is what the interviewers are basically looking out for too.
Remember that rejection could just be new opportunities presenting themselves to you to learn more and grow, and not that you aren’t good or smart enough to do medicine.
Good luck to any potential medical students out there!
Anglia Ruskin Medical Student