In this series of articles, medical students from across the UK speak about their personal journey to medicine. Jessica is an undergraduate medical student at the King's College London.
I first decided I wanted to study medicine by the end of the summer before starting Year 12. I think every medical student can agree that the consideration of a medical career in its very early stages stems from your scientific interests. The only time I genuinely felt excited to learn was in my science lessons - there was always more to learn, and it related to my day-to-day life.
Science helps you to understand the world around you better and that is why I enjoyed it so much.
I was also born from IVF and I took extra time to understand this when I first learned about it in my Biology lessons. If it wasn’t for scientific technology and medical professionals, my parents wouldn’t have 4 children – which they never thought they could. I wanted to be able to improve people’s quality of life in ways like this. I achieved 10 A*s in my GCSEs and decided to take Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths at A Level.
During that summer, I undertook some work experience at veterinary practices. I loved animals and I knew I wanted to be a healthcare professional, so I decided to see what working as a vet was like first. I sat in on consultations and witnessed procedures like castrations and births. But… I realised this definitely wasn’t for me!
I missed the sense of connection you would have with a patient in a consultation and found myself feeling distanced from the whole process. So, my next steps were to find work experience at a hospital to compare to my veterinary experience. I managed to get work experience at a hospital and a hospice during Year 12 which allowed me to experience both ends of the spectrum: when lives can be saved and when they cannot. The multi-faceted nature of the NHS excited me and confirmed my decision to study Medicine.
However, during my first application cycle for Medicine, I made a lot of mistakes without realising them:
I didn't research the structure of interviews nor did I practice enough questions.
I didn't prepare enough for the medical school admissions tests.
I wasn't strategic: I applied to more BMAT universities compared to UCAT: Oxford, Imperial, UCL and Keele. I ended up doing better in the UCAT and my poor BMAT score meant that 2/4 of my choices (Oxford and Imperial) declined my application outright.
After receiving 4 rejections from my chosen universities to study Medicine, admittedly I felt defeated. But as A-level exams drew closer, I knew I had to redirect my focus towards achieving the grades I wanted because I did not want to have the added pressure of retaking my exams.
Gap Year as a Health Care Assistant (HCA)
Deciding to take a gap year was not an impulsive decision nor was it one that I entered into lightly and making that decision earlier on in the process allowed me to plan out my year effectively.
I chose to take a gap year as opposed to taking up another degree (such as Biomedical Science) because I did not want to have to fund the tuition fees myself, which many postgraduates have to.
After results day (I achieved AAAA), I applied for a new job as a healthcare assistant and in October I officially started my role. As the keen new employee, I was excited to experience healthcare from a different perspective: as one of the staff as opposed to being on the outside looking in as a work experience student. My ward – a combination of Rheumatology, Elderly Medicine and Infectious Diseases – depicted the typical chaotic, busy NHS hospital ward. It accommodated 21 patients at any one time, and very rarely did we have empty beds. Cardiac arrests, sudden deaths and patients with distressing and uncomfortable conditions became part of my everyday working life.
However, above all else, what brought me into work for my 12.5-hour long days and night shifts were the patients. The gratitude I was shown for the little things I did for them confirmed within me that working in healthcare was going to give me the personal fulfilment and lifetime satisfaction I wanted for myself.
I was the youngest employee to be nominated by a patient and their family for the 'Make a Difference' Award - a staff recognition scheme that rewards the hard work, dedication and achievements of individuals that go out of their way to exceed patients' expectations.
A chat with a patient; helping them to brush their teeth in the morning; offering a cup of tea and even the tasks that made up my job role such as toileting and washing were some of the moments where I realised I was making a change and contributing to improving the quality of life of each patient I came across, however small that may have seemed.
I wanted to experience healthcare abroad and so, I spent my annual leave in the Dominican Republic with the Gap Medics (now called Global Pre Meds) programme. As opposed to my healthcare assistant role which was ward-based care, the Gap Medics programme allowed me to experience the more surgical side of things. I was allowed to scrub in and observe procedures like C-sections, hysterectomies and even cosmetic procedures like abdominoplasties (tummy tucks). During my 3-weeks, I saw private, public and community healthcare in action and how that differed from the UK 4000 miles away.
Private healthcare was where I witnessed most surgeries and it was of a pristine standard – hence why it was only provided if you could afford it, something we have strived to avoid in the UK. The common denominators remained for public hospitals: they were poorly funded and understaffed. Community healthcare took place in Bateys (sugar worker towns). Here, most of the residents were Haitian and had travelled to the Dominican Republic to harvest sugar cane for a living. They lived in communities with poor hygiene and sanitation, often hours away from hospitals since sugar cane grows in rural areas. We would set up clinics (much like our local GP surgeries in the UK) and hold consultations with the doctor, prescribing and supplying medications to those who needed them. It was eye-opening and my team saw around 150 patients in a day’s work. I made lifelong friends from all over the world during the programme who hope to work in healthcare whether that be as doctors, nurses, midwives or community providers. We got involved in a range of fun activities such as snorkelling, boat trips to the island of Saona, horse riding and quad biking. I will never forget my once-in-a-lifetime experience there.
Throughout the rest of my gap year I worked, travelled and even passed my driving test and bought my first car! All of these experiences changed me as a person – I felt as though I’d accomplished and grown so much. Most importantly, I was invited to interview at 3 of my medical school choices (King’s College London, Queen Mary University London and Cardiff) and as you can see, I had a lot more to talk about!
I transitioned from an uninformed, nervous sixth form student who thought she wanted to study medicine to an adult who had a much deeper understanding about the degree who knew she wanted to study medicine. I secured offers from all of the medical schools that I interviewed at and I have thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years at King’s College London so far.