In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Ayanfe is an undergraduate medical student at the University of Cambridge.
I come from a family with no history of doctors or people in the medical profession.
But I started considering medicine as a career after my uncle said he’s always wanted a doctor in the family and from that moment on, I decided that would be me. That decision I made, without knowing too much of what being a doctor actually entails, propelled me to try my best in all I do and to stay focused.
During my GCSE years, I was a mentor to Year 7 students and competed in competitions on the school netball and athletics team. Sports were a particularly fun outlet for me and helped me to gain a lot of skills such as leadership and teamwork.
Although I had my sight set on medicine from before, it was important to me and should be important to anyone thinking of applying to medicine that the choice is yours and yours alone. It should not be influenced by the desires of family members and the expectations that they have on your career.
So, in the summer after my GCSEs and during Year 12, I attended a psychiatry conference and some other medical workshops and events; which gave me the chance to ask questions and to make sure that my decision to study medicine was because I wanted to.
In Sixth form I took the common medicine triad; Biology, Chemistry and Maths. I enjoyed all my subjects and was even suggested by my teacher to consider taking maths in university instead. However, I stayed steadfast on my goal.
Although the step up from GCSE to A-levels took a bit of adjusting, I maintained the techniques of studying that I had used during GCSE, such as the use of past papers and pre-reading the textbook before the lesson to make sure I stayed on top of the work.
For work experience, during Year 12, I spent 2 weeks at a local care home, organised by my Sixth Form. I also volunteered at the primary school next to my sixth form as a classroom assistant, helping year 3 students with reading and literacy. In addition, I spent a week my local GP. Although I was unable to enter the consultations with the GP, it allowed me to value the multidisciplinary team. During my time, I took the initiative to design and organise the first newsletter of the GP.
Due to getting work experience in hospitals being particularly difficult, a local scheme in my city helped students to organise a week of shadowing doctors and surgeons of different specialities. Finally, a friend from sixth form gave me the email of a surgeon from her church, who I asked during the Year 12 summer to spend a day shadowing him.
In hindsight, my most useful work experiences were, working at the care home and shadowing the doctors in the hospital, as it allowed me to get a real insight into the patient-doctor relationship and the amount of trust those who are sick and vulnerable place in the hands of health care professionals. However, no matter what work experience you get, after each day, it is important to take time to reflect and physically write down what you saw during the day, your thoughts, reactions and feelings. Reflection is an important part of medicine, both in medical school and in the career.
My choice on whether to do the BMAT, as well as the UKCAT, was very much dependent on my choice in universities; which I didn’t finalise until September.
When preparing for the UKCAT, I understood that it was a test that required lots of practice, but I was very cautious not to get burnt out. In my preparation, I watched advice videos on YouTube and read about the structure of the test, before spending the last 4 weeks of summer doing practice questions and preparing for the test.
To prepare, I used questions from prep books that I borrowed from people that had done the UKCAT the year before. I also used many free resources as possible and dedicated time each day to practice. I managed to get a 712.5 average, which was way higher than I had ever gotten in a practice.
After this, I had written off doing the BMAT because I didn’t want to have to revise for another admissions test. However, after a few weeks of thinking and some nudging from my mum, I decided to apply to Cambridge, which used the BMAT test. I also applied to Nottingham, Bristol and Leicester medical schools. I found the BMAT harder to revise for, as I only started 3 weeks before the test and found it hard to balance with the start of year 13. I would arrive at school 40 minutes early to go through some questions on the BMAT ninja question bank and did some extra maths questions during weekends so that I was ahead of the class and could spend study periods revision for BMAT.
I managed to achieve scores of 4.6, 5.6 and 4A, which were average scores for the college I had applied to.
In choosing medical schools, I knew that I wanted a medical school that had a more scientific first 2-3 years, followed by more clinical heavy latter years. I had completely ruled out PBL styled courses, as I didn’t enjoy learning in that format. The medic portal website was extremely helpful in allowing me to compare medical schools. To pick between the UKCAT universities, I chose strategically based off how they use the UCAT, GCSE and personal statement to assess candidates. I also particularly liked the Cambridge supervision system, with small group teachings and discussions to push learning beyond the scope of the lectures.
I started writing my personal statement in August and started by making a mind map of things I would like to include such as; why medicine, work experience, extra reading, volunteering, extracurriculars. However tedious, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing the personal statement. Writing it allowed a nice break away from my A-level subjects. I also included some extra reading I had done on CTE, a neurodegenerative disease seen in high contact sports.
After sending my applications and doing my admissions test, I was invited to an interview at Cambridge, Leicester and Nottingham. My Cambridge interview consisted of 3 25-minute interviews with 1-2 academics talking about more scientific concepts and ideas. The Nottingham and Leicester interviews were MMIs that involved a mix of decision-making, communication, instruction following assessments. All my interview took place within a week, which I appreciated as I was then able to focus solely on my A-levels subjects, which had taken a backseat at the time. To prepare for my Cambridge interviews, I asked 2 biology teachers to ask me questions for 30 minutes each. I also went to an interview workshop run by Leicester medical school, which was a really helpful mock MMI interview. I also stayed informed with medical news at the time and had a clear understanding of the key concepts of medical ethics.
Offers & Results
I got offers from Cambridge and Nottingham medical school. The next few months were dedicated to working hard to ensure that I met my offer for A*A*A, which I did in the end. In medical school, I am involved in the university gospel choir, I was also on the African Caribbean Society committee as well as a college rep for Christian Union. I also started a YouTube channel this year, to offer more tips on the medical application process.
Although there is so much pressure on you as an applicant to make sure that you present yourself the best you can for the universities; you also need to ensure that the medical schools you apply to are also suitable to you. Whether, it is location, course structure, teaching form or assessment type. Medicine is a long course so; it is important to apply to places that you are happy to spend the 5-6 years at.
For anyone worried that they can’t afford extra tutoring for the admissions tests, personal statement writing or interview prep, shouldn’t be. There are a lot of free resources online and on YouTube and there are lots of current medical students that have been through the process that would be more than happy to help and support. So, don’t be too afraid to reach out and ask for help.