In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Hazal is an undergraduate medical student at Barts and the London School of London.
I always grew up saying I wanted to be a doctor but never really knew what this entailed.
In Year 11, I knew that I would be applying for Medicine but that was pretty much it. I knew nothing about applying to university and what the medical application process consisted of. This is partly due to my lack of research, but also due to the fact that my secondary state school wasn’t very well equipped when it came to university applications and informing us about higher education.
For sixth form, I transferred to the sixth form of a grammar school in my local area. Here, I had to pick 4 A-Level subjects to study in year 12 and could sit one as an AS Level, so that you study 3 subjects in year 13. I always wanted to study Biology, Chemistry and Maths at A-Level, and without putting much thought into it, I picked Further Maths as my fourth choice. Looking back at it now, I probably should’ve put a little more thought into this decision... Very quickly my choice was questioned.
I vividly remember my Maths teacher asking “Hazal, you want to study Medicine, are you sure you don’t want to drop Further Maths?” I didn’t know what to say.
If I was to drop Further Maths, I would have to pick up another subject and catch up on all the work I had missed out on. If I stuck with Further Maths, the workload would be massive, as I would have to study a whole A-Level in one year and sit the exam that same year. I had suddenly been asked to make a big decision on the subjects I wanted to study, and I had to make this decision very quickly.
I was so scared.
I liked Maths and would want to study both Maths and Further Maths, but there was a lot of self-doubt. Being a state school student in a grammar school, and in a Maths class with many students who wanted to study Maths at university, I felt as if I simply wasn’t good enough.
Would I be able to deal with the workload? Is it worth it? Will this impact my medical application? I had so many questions and didn't know what to do. After a few very tense days, I decided to stick with Further Maths, due to my gut feeling. With this decision came the determination to perform as well as I can in my Maths A-Level exam, which I would be sitting in a few months. It was hard, and often I would be very demotivated and would regret my decision.
Alongside all of this, I had to start preparing for my medical school application.
Many people in my year group had clinical work experience, which they gained in Year 11 - an opportunity I didn’t get at the time. This meant that I had no work experience to put in my personal statement.
I contacted the school’s work experience officer and explained my situation. Usually they didn’t offer experience to Year 12 students, as Year 11 was priority. She said I would be emailed if there was a free space, but that there wasn’t much hope. I spent countless hours calling up different wards in different hospitals to try and gain work experience.
I emailed multiple doctors for the same reason. I also called multiple care homes as well as childcare centres to try and gain some non-clinical experience. Unfortunately, nowhere could offer me work experience. I felt as if my chances were running out and that my application wasn’t going to be as good as everyone else's.
This is when I turned to the Year 13 students in my sixth form who had applied to study Medicine. They directed me to a specific care home that had links with our school and after calling and visiting, I was finally able to get some experience! I was so grateful! I was given the opportunity to visit the care home once a week and spend some time with the residents. I carried this out for 11 months and thoroughly enjoyed it. Around the same time, I started volunteering at the care home, my friend introduced me to the local St John Ambulance unit in our area. I attended weekly meetings here and learnt first aid with other cadets. After gaining my certificate, I was able to volunteer as a First Aid Cadet at the London Marathon and to this date this is one of my best volunteering experiences! I was able to work alongside other cadets, doctors and physiotherapists to help athletes during their race. I felt as though I was a part of the team and was genuinely helping others - it was amazing! After following a friend’s advice, I was able to email a doctor that I met at a medical conference and gain some clinical work experience in a plastic surgery trauma clinic! This all happened by the end of my Year 12 summer. Now, at the start of Year 12 if someone had told me that I would have this much experience I would’ve simply laughed at them. However, this shows that if you continue trying hard and stay determined, you can get the experience that you need!
Of course, we can’t forget the Maths A-Level that I had to sit in Year 12. Honestly, the exam was hard, and I did struggle, especially because I also had mocks in Biology and Chemistry which would determine my predicted grades that would be used for UCAS. Exam week was tough, but I continued working hard and fighting through, and was able to come out with an A* in Maths A-Level! I was literally over the moon! Later on, I also found out that some medical schools, such as Kings College London and University of Nottingham, would accept this grade, and reduce my conditional offer for Medicine! I finally was happy that I decided to stick with my original subjects and understood that it could in fact benefit my medical school application.
Aside from this, my Year 12 summer consisted of UCAT preparation and personal statement writing.
I didn’t go out as much as my friends did and did spend most of my summer doing work, but this is just another sacrifice I had to make for the best of my medical school application. This sacrifice did pay off as I was able to achieve a UCAT score that I was very happy with.
As Year 13 started, I had to wrap up my application and make my final decisions on what universities I wanted to apply to. I had decided on Barts and The London, King's College London, University of Nottingham and University of Cambridge. As I started medical interview preparation, it got really difficult to balance all of this with the new A-Level content I was learning, which was inevitably harder than the AS content from year 12. At times I fell behind on work and had to stay up late at night to catch up. Learn from my mistakes and know that this doesn't need to be the case.
With efficient and smart planning, you can definitely prepare for medical interviews and stay up to date with your subjects. It is hard, don't get me wrong, but it is 100% not impossible.
I received my first interview from King's College London in early November. This was quite early, so I was a little nervous and felt as if I was not ready. Nonetheless, I completed my interview and was surprisingly happy with how it went. In the next few weeks I also received interview offers from the other 3 universities.
Everything was going well until I started using The Student Room religiously - something I do not recommend at all. I found out on here that people who had interviews at King’s after me, were starting to receive offers, but I had nothing.
I didn't think much of this until it had been 4 weeks and I still had no news from King’s. A large number of people had offers now, and so I once again doubted myself. Was my interview that bad? Were my answers not good enough? Had all the preparation gone to waste? Although I shouldn’t have, I started thinking that I was going to get rejected. I simply couldn’t understand why else they were taking so long to reply. This then led to me thinking that I would have the same experience with all my other universities. It was now February and I had attended all my interviews. I had no offers and one rejection from Cambridge. I was gutted. Everyone around me had at-least one offer and I had nothing. This was a very sad time for me. Suddenly, everything changed. I received my first offer for medicine, from Kings, on February 18th. Within the next 3 weeks I received my 2 other offers. Just like with my experience with gaining work experience, everything changed so quickly.
It is so important to understand that NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS, and that you are not rejected until the email comes through saying so.
I was so grateful for all my offers and decided to firm Barts and The London. With hard work I was able to meet my offer and now I am a medical student. The journey was hard, very very hard. Despite this, I wouldn’t change it. This journey taught me so much, both about myself and the world around me. The biggest lesson I learnt was to believe in myself.
Self-doubt is a very bad thing, but just like I did you too can move on from it. Be your own best friend and have your back no matter what. With will power and hard work, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
To help make this journey a little easier for aspiring medics, I created a YouTube channel with my friend called ‘Journey2Med’. Here we provide advice on the whole medical application to try and help others achieve their goals too.
You can do it. Never forget that. Put in the work and have will power, but most importantly, DO NOT DOUBT YOURSELF.