In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Anthony is an undergraduate medical student at the Barts and The London (Queen Mary) who previously studied Biomedical Science at St George's, University of London.
I applied to medical school three times before getting an offer, so my journey has been a long and bumpy one. I haven’t always wanted to study medicine, but I’ve loved science from a young age. I started seriously considering a career in medicine at around the age of 15 (in the latter years of secondary school) after being inspired by medical documentaries and TV shows like Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands, on BBC and 24 Hours in A&E, on Channel 4.
I was drawn to many things about medicine, but the main thing was how it wonderfully integrates science and problem solving with the potential to greatly improve or even save lives. Thus, I decided to go for it.
I didn’t do amazingly in my GCSEs, I got 6As 3Bs and 1C – not a single A*. I didn’t do amazingly in my A-Levels either and despite working very hard, I only got BBC in Biology, Maths and Chemistry, respectively. However, I didn’t let my grades put me off medicine because I was passionate about it and I knew that I hadn’t yet reached my full potential. When I started university, I carefully evaluated my study techniques and implemented new ones that were based on the principles of spaced repetition and active recall. Thankfully, these worked and last year in 2019 I graduated with a first-class honour’s degree in Biomedical Science. Even if I hadn’t got a first, I wouldn’t have let it put me off medicine because I believe that having a genuine interest in medicine is more important than having amazing academics.
Work Experience and Volunteering
I undertook a range of activities for my work experience and volunteering. One of my most valuable experiences was volunteering as a Youth Leader with St John Ambulance in my first two years of university. This helped me to improve many transferable skills such as leadership, public speaking, teamwork and time-management. Another valuable experience was working part-time as a bank healthcare assistant where I helped to care for elderly residents with dementia. I learned so much from being involved in hands-on care and working in a multi-disciplinary healthcare team. As a graduate, getting hands-on experience was very important as it is a requirement for some graduate-entry courses. However, I don’t think it’s required for any undergraduate courses so a good alternative would be volunteering in a care home or hospice.
Like my academics, my UCAT scores weren’t amazing. I took the UCAT three times and my scores were: 545 average with Band 3 (2015 sitting), 597.5 average with Band 3 average with (2018 sitting) and 640 average with Band 1 (2019 sitting). I simply didn’t prepare effectively on my first two attempts and I struggled to find techniques that worked for me. Despite facing noise disruption at my test centre, I managed to improve on my third attempt to an above-average score (63rd percentile). The thing that helped me the most was not starting timed practice too early like I did on my first two attempts. Instead, I started slowly with untimed practice first, before starting timed practice, so that I could solidify fundamental skills like pattern recognition for abstract reasoning and calculations for quantitative reasoning. After doing this, I found that I was making more progress when doing timed practice. As the adage goes: learn to walk before you run.
I started writing my personal statement in the Summer, around July. I quite enjoyed writing my personal statement because it was an opportunity to be creative. Also, if you’re struggling to get started, remember that you don’t have to start with the introduction! For example, you could start with your work experience paragraph and then write the introduction later.
My top tip for personal statements is to be reflective, not just descriptive. It’s important to discuss what you’ve learned from your experiences and how you think they will help you in a medical career.
My first ever medical school interview (an MMI) was in 2016 for the Foundation Year course at Norwich Medical School, UEA. Being my first ever interview, I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t prepare as well as I could have. I think I did well on some stations, but I remember struggling on most of them and hence, I didn’t get an offer.
My second medical school interview (also an MMI) was in 2018 for the Biomedical Science to medicine internal transfer programme at my university, St George’s, University of London. The competition ratio was much higher this time as we (approximately 100 applicants) were competing for around 25 places on their graduate-entry medicine programme. I felt like I had done okay coming out of the interview, but my performance wasn’t good enough this time either.
My third and final interview was earlier this year in January for the undergraduate (A100) medicine course at Barts and The London. This went much better than my previous interviews as I prepared more thoroughly and did more practice. I was delighted when I received my offer a few weeks later. After doing a lot of preparation for interviews, you’ll start to notice that a lot of different questions or stations are used to test for the same knowledge, skills and attributes. When you realise this, interviews become much less intimidating.
My Final Words of Wisdom
Although my journey into medical school wasn’t a direct one, it has allowed me to have many great experiences that have ultimately helped me to become a better person.
For those of you applying to medical school, try to not compare yourself to others because everyone’s journey is different. Focusing on my own journey has helped me to become more patient and hence more resistant to setbacks.
When I was 18, I thought that I would feel ‘old’ starting a five-year medical degree at 22, but I don’t. I still feel young and I’m incredibly happy that I can now do what I love.
Not getting into medical school at 18 doesn’t make you a failure, so if medicine is really what you want to do, don’t be afraid to reapply multiple times if you must. However, make sure that you’re always learning from your mistakes so also try to get as much feedback as you can.
My Journey continues this September. Feel free to follow me on Instagram @anthonys_notebook to see what I get up to in Medical School.